Another Short-Term Rental Appeal Over Missed Deadline Denied
BAR HARBOR—There is no wiggle room for the Appeals Board or Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain said Board Chair Ellen Dohmen, not when it comes to the town’s land use ordinance’s deadline for short-term rental applications.
“Municipal boards cannot overrule” the town’s land use ordinance she said, adding that understanding and generosity and hardship exemptions are not in the Appeals Board purview.
On October 11, the Bar Harbor Appeals Board heard another short-term rental licensing appeal based on a missed deadline and again denied the appeal. The August appeal of a registration’s termination stemmed from a homeowner’s illness which caused them to miss the May 31 deadline. Last November Bar Harbor voters passed a law that keeps the total number of short-term vacation rentals not occupied by owners (VR-2) at a maximum of 9% of the town’s total dwelling units. Rental units that already had a vacation rental permit were grandfathered in.
At the time many opponents said that rental income helped them survive financially and also were investments for their retirement or for their children’s futures. Proponents said that limiting short-term rentals was an important tool to help increase housing stock for workers and families. When the ordinance passed, Maine Public said that there were approximately 640 rental units in Bar Harbor, an increase from “400 two years ago,” and that “another 150 properties” were “in the application process.”
ALBERT MEADOW APPEAL AND MAINTAINING FAMILY HISTORY
The current appeal came from the family of Rachel Geist Rubel who were granted a VR-2 permit on October 19, 2021 for their family home on Albert Meadow Road, and the family members thought that the refiling date was one calendar year from the award date. The registration card for the rental and its approval which contained the May 31, 2022 deadline was given to their caretaker who was there representing the family during the final walkthrough of the property. The family members saw the registration on their home’s counter in August when they arrived.
In a letter to the Appeals Board, the family stated, “We hope to illustrate that the impact of this error to our family (in the first year of the law being enacted) is far greater than the intent of the law. We also hope to convey that our interest in short-term rentals is only so that we can keep the house in our family and keep it in good repair.”
They said that though they are “from away,” they’ve “been a part of the Bar Harbor community since our great-grandfather purchased the property in 1947.” Each generation spent their summers here, attending camp at the YMCA, many having their first jobs at Butterfields.
“Chuck and Denise Alley also helped raise us and treated us as if we were their own,” the letter states.
During the meeting, Thomas Rubel said that they understood that they missed the deadline and are clearly asking for leniency because it’s the first year of the ordinance’s implication. He said it’s a value-add for Bar Harbor to keep the home in the family in Bar Harbor.
“We really do love the town of Bar Harbor and it’s such a huge part of our lives and our history and the family history,” Nina Rubel said during the meeting. “We’re really just trying to preserve a piece of our family history.”
“This isn’t about making money at all,” Nina Rubel said. “This is about maintaining our family history.”
Code Enforcement Angela Chamberlain said during the meeting, “I’m sorry this is happening. There are no options for me to give any exceptions to this real.”
Since 1947 the house has never been rented, but the family applied for the VR-2 permit to “keep our options open.” This required upgrades for inspections. VR-2 are when the dwelling is not the owner’s primary residence or on the property of the primary residence.
VACATION RENTAL 2 (VR-2) AND CHANGES
As of December 2, 2021, the town’s Land Use Ordinance stipulates that dwellings that are classified as Vacation Rental-2 (VR-2) must be renewed each year before or on May 31 of each year. Multiple people spoke on behalf of the family, which prompted Dohmen to say after their appeal had been denied to say, “One of the things that I love about Bar Harbor is people going to bat for each other.”
Thomas Rubel said that he and his sister were disappointed. “I’m not sure how this benefits the town of Bar Harbor,” he said. “I fail to understand how the punishment matches the error.” He said, “The consequences of this may make us lose an amazing part of our family history.”
He asked if there are challenges to the law itself. Dohmen said she did not know.
Town Planner Michele Gagnon was also at the meeting and said that there is a pending lawsuit “that is basically on a technicality” and not on the language of the ordinance, and that the ordinance passed by about 60 percent of those who voted at the November election.
Erica Brooks, a real estate broker and former Planning Board member, has challenged the vacation rental regulations. According to the town code, proposed amendments to the land use ordinance have to go before the Planning Board. The board then votes to recommend or not recommend. The board tied about the short-term rental ordinance (2-2). Brooks said that this was not a yes vote and therefore triggered the town’s two-thirds vote rule. The town’s attorney, Ed Bearor disagreed. It passed in November 1,260 to 840, which is not a supermajority. Since then, the town council has voted (6-1, Cough against) to recommend bringing it to the voters. Voters will decide the fate of the rule in November.
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