Council also thanks Tom St. Germain for service to town
BAR HARBOR—The Bar Harbor Town Council had a busy agenda at its Tuesday, September 6 meeting in Council Chambers at the Bar Harbor Municipal Meeting
After hearing comments from the public, councilors addressed speed limit reviews, potential short-term and long-term rental policy changes, shellfish ordinances, parking spots, and other business. Additional stories are forthcoming, but here is a quick roundup of some of the things the council addressed.
Speed Limit Review
The council heard public comment about a speed limit review request by some property owners on Bayview Drive and Hadley Point Road, but had already recommended that a letter be drafted to the Maine Department of Transportation, which governs speed limits on town roads, to look into a speed reduction. Some of the public comment at the September 6 meeting may be used in the letter, councilors said.
Two children and four adults who live in the area spoke to the specialness of their community and asked for the reduction. A petition signed by many residents in the neighborhood had been submitted to the council earlier this summer.
“I think that every neighborhood thinks they’re unique and special. We have over 30 kids that live on this road,” said Sara O’Connell, a resident and parent in the neighborhood. She said that people driving by will see anything from “my daughter walking a chicken in a stroller, and guinea pigs” to gangs of kids on the road.
“Driving 35 mph doesn’t seem like much, but if you actually do it, it feels criminal,” she said of the current speed limit on one of the roads. “Trying to drive the speed limit feels wrong…. We’re just waiting for an accident to happen.”
Town Manager Kevin Sutherland said that the typical time it takes to change speed limits on residential roads is lengthy and can take at least a year if not a little longer. Council Chair Valerie Peacock suggested that the council has some work to do to look at how traffic is increasing in residential areas like Bayview Drive, Hadley Point Road, and others.
Town Meeting Warrant
The council unanimously approved the special town meeting warrant, allowing the staff to prepare the final warrant for councilors’ signatures after Councilor Jill Goldthwait expressed her displeasure that one of the citizens’ petitions on the warrant—for marijuana retail stores—mentions a town district which does not exist and is not defined in the town’s land use ordinance. Town Planner Michele Gagnon has said that the council and planning board can remove that language through a process if the ordinance itself passes.
Sutherland assured Goldthwait that if the measure passed, no retail marijuana businesses would get a permit in a zone that doesn’t exist.
“Recent history leads me to be nervous,” Goldthwait said.
SHORT-TERM RENTAL REGISTRATION ORDINANCE AMENDMENT AND PROPOSED LONG-TERM RENTAL REGISTRATION ORDINANCE
The council also heard discussion on changes to the short-term rental registration ordinance and a proposed long-term rental registration ordinance. The council unanimously approved changes requested by Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain to the short-term rental registration. Those changes are mostly concerning the “life safety inspections and inspection schedule,” and the other change includes text boxes that were mistakenly omitted when the ordinance was sent for publication. Those text boxes are meant to aid the reader in “understanding and complying with the chapter” Chamberlain wrote in an August 18 memo to the council.
Councilor Erin Cough asked about historic properties that had past short-term rental registrations and what would happen if they don’t meet the new inspection standards? Some historic properties have restrictions about changing the exterior or interior nature of the property which would make changes (such as egress issues, door sizes, window sizes, stair heights) impossible to do without losing their historic designation.
Chamberlain said that there are currently no exceptions for historic buildings and that Chief Bartlett doesn’t believe things such as egress windows should be negotiable.
The council unanimously voted to table a public hearing concerning the proposed long-term rental registration ordinance after hearing concerns from Goldthwait who wondered how the town can permit a building that it didn’t inspect. She also worried about the legal obligations and implications.
Chamberlain said there are a lot of things that the town doesn’t inspect that it gives permits for and that the long-term rental registration process is meant to be gone into slowly and positively. The task force will reconvene after a year of data collection, she said. Fees for not registering the properties are meant to make sure that the town knows all the dwellings which are currently being used for long-term rentals.
Friedman said the town isn’t sending out permits, but Goldthwait countered that she didn’t see how a valid registration is different than a permit. If the changes go through, property owners could no longer have long-term rentals without a registration. By creating that registration, she said, the town knowingly allows people to engage in the activity of having long-term rentals.
“I’m getting at a concern for liability for approving a unit for rental without any inspection,” she said.
Councilor Matthew Hochman said, “We just heard Angie say that Matt is serious about life safety issues.” Without putting undue burden on landlords, he said, the town wants to make sure that they are renting safe apartments.
“I think there has to be an inspection, maybe not initially, but I would have preferred it initially,” he said and added that this is true for him especially since short-term rentals require inspections. “We don’t want to encourage people to rent out apartments to people that are not safe.”
Cough said that dwelling units do need certificates of occupancy with the now higher standard for life safety. She asked if the registration would be available online. Chamberlain said that it would be.
Friedman said that the task force responded thoughtfully to people like himself who have long-term rentals. “The idea was until the registration process is complete, the town doesn’t really know what’s out there. The purpose is to assess who is renting long term,” he said, and then use that information to understand the housing situation and have the data to make decisions.
There is currently no registry of long-term rentals. Within the draft language there are escalating fees for failure to register annually prior to February 28. Registrations would be issued by the code enforcement officer. And, if approved, the registration program would begin January 1, 2024.
The draft also states that
The Bar Harbor Town Council Shellfish Ordinance
Quahogs and eastern oysters are now added into the town’s shellfish ordinance thanks to the Bar Harbor town council’s unanimous approval. During the public hearing, Chris Peterson, chair of the town’s marine resources committee, quickly advised councilors that interns were out doing work on the western side of Mount Desert Island near Blue Hill Bay, and he hopes to give a summary of what they’d heard when talking to harvesters. Currently nothing is changing in the harvesting of oysters and quahogs; they are just being added into the language of the ordinance.
Resident Jim O’Connell also spoke during the public hearing for Shellfish Conservation Ordinance Amendment #2022-04, but used the time to express his worries about forever chemicals accumulating in the bay and then spoke about cruise ship tenders and their pollution.
Parking Space Removals and Additions
A unanimous council approved changes in parking spaces requested by Bangor Savings Bank. The bank hopes to build at 114 Cottage Street and asked “the town remove two parking spaces near the corner of Maple Avenue and add two along the corner along Cottage Street.”
Former Planning Board Chair Honored
The council unanimously honored Tom St. Germain for ten years of service on the Bar Harbor Planning Board.