Annapolis has decided there’s no room for the floating inn, after all.

The city’s Harbormaster’s Office has issued citations to Brian Meyer and Marcellous Butler, two of the owners of hotel startup Flohom, for docking an unauthorized vessel at Butler’s Marina in Eastport.

Harbormaster Beth Bellis wrote in a response to a complaint from a boater at a neighboring marina that she expected Flohom1 Bay Escape, a 53-foot houseboat, to be removed shortly.

“We have already cited the responsible parties and they are required to move the boat by next Wednesday,” she wrote on May 23. “The boat will not be permitted in City waters.”

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Flohom 1, however, remained at the marina on Back Creek on Monday evening, and Butler said he and his partners would contest the citations. He said the city is trying to enforce a 1984 law prohibiting house barges. But he said it has never been applied to boats used as private homes, whose residents are dubbed “liveaboards,” or any of the handful of floating short-term rentals docked within city waters.

“If you’re going to apply this to us, what about all those other boats that are rented out?” Butler said.

On top of that, he said, Flohom 1 is a boat, not a house barge.

“It is a registered boat. Here’s the thing: It’s a boat.”

The Flohom partners have retained Alan Hyatt, an Annapolis lawyer well known for successfully knocking down city interpretations of its own zoning rules.

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The company is an ambitious venture co-founded by Butler, former Capital Sup co-owner Brian Meyer, and former valet parking entrepreneur Jerry South. They say they have raised $1.6 million toward a $2.5 million goal, with plans to create a network of 60 houseboats for rent as a sort of network of hotels in marinas along the East Coast.

The next two locations are planned in Baltimore and Arnold. The partners also say they have signed a lease for manufacturing space at Baltimore Peninsula and plan to manufacture the boats needed for expansion and retail sales there.

In an interview last month atop the roof deck of the houseboat docked at Butler’s Marina on Back Creek, Meyer, Butler and South expressed confidence that the venture would not violate any city laws or rules. South touted Butler and Meyer’s research into cities where marina rules would allow for expansion.

Monday, Meyer explained that the partners asked for a review of its plans and city rules by several parties, but not the Harbormaster’s Office, Board of Port Wardens or the city Office of Law.

“Their first answer is always no on anything,” Meyer said.

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He said the city code does not restrict renting living space aboard boats. Flohom 1 is a Coast Guard-certified boat registered with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources as a vessel.

“When we first looked at this, our interpretation was that we were a houseboat,” Meyer said. “We’re able to move this if we need to, and we can demonstrate that if we need to.”

For now, they plan to stay put until they can challenge the citations.

Flohom 1 Bay Escape at Bulter's Marina in Eastport.
Flohom 1 Bay Escape at Bulter’s Marina in Eastport. (Courtesy of Flohom)

The citations cite Title 15 of the city code, specifically the portion that regulates “housebarges.” They are defined as any floating vessel or structure used as a residence, business or social club “and which is not designed or intended primarily for self-propelled navigation.” The code also sets size and time limits.

Meyer, the person listed on the boat registration, faces $900 in fines for docking an unauthorized vessel for too long and refusing to comply with the Harbormaster’s citation. Butler, as the marina owner, faces $1,200 for allowing the boat at his docks, violating city rules on where small house barges permitted under the code can go and refusing to comply.

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Hyatt, the attorney, said his firm has started researching the law, which he called “archaic” and without any context to boat and water uses today. And while he said the partners could have checked with the city on its plan, he agreed with Meyer’s assessment of the likely response.

“Hard to argue that. The city is not often accused of being business-friendly,” he said.

While the partners might plan to stick it out, city code does give Bellis and her staff the power to move the boat and impound it until the citations are settled.

Mitchelle Stephenson, a spokesperson for the city, said she was unsure how the dispute would play out. The harbormaster enforces city law on its waterways and can issue citations. Just like a speeding ticket, those citations can be appealed to District Court.

“Our office responded after receiving multiple complaints about a house barge obstructing navigation,” Bellis said in a statement released by the city Monday. “In total, we received 10 complaints between May 15 and June 2 from residents and local boaters. After initially issuing a citation with two weeks to cure, the vessel was not removed.”

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One of those came from John Folk, who keeps his sailboat in Allsopp Marine next door.

“My boat sits across the fairway at the marina next door to the Flohom featured in your story,” he wrote me after a Friday column on Flohom. “The Flohom is too long for the 40-ish foot slip it sits in. Because it’s too long it constricts the entrance to our marina next door, and obstructs visibility for boats entering and leaving.”

Folk expressed a reservation, shared by some critics of the houseboat, that it detracts from the nautical heritage of Eastport. Over the past 75 years, the commercial waterfront of Annapolis and Eastport waned in favor of recreational sailors, and maritime businesses now are under pressure to redevelop for housing and hospitality uses.

In an email to Bellis, Folk complained that Flohom was in the way of boats coming out of the marina next door.

“There is a large houseboat type vessel that is way too big for the slip that it occupies and obstructs the view of entering and leaving vessels,” he wrote.

A Maryland Natural Resources Police officer inspected Flohom and determined in April that it does not protrude into navigable waters, a DNR spokesperson said.

But Annapolis also has a rule against boats jutting out past the harbor line, a border between docks and piers and the city’s main waterways. Bellis did not cite Flohom for this, but the harbor line also comes under the control of the city Board of Port Wardens.

Butler said he’s had boats of similar size in the same slip for 10 years without complaint.

“Boats sit outside the harbor line all over Annapolis,” he said. “DNR came by and looked at it and didn’t have any issue.”