Last Public Hearings For Special Town Meeting Elicits Little Debate

Long-Term Rental Registration Adopted


Carrie Jones

3 min ago

BAR HARBOR—The final moment for public comment before the November election and town meeting arrived at the Bar Harbor Town Council meeting Tuesday night and quickly went with many items up for discussion soliciting little or no comment.

DAILY LIMITS ON CRUISE SHIP DISEMBARKATIONS

Charles Sidman, the lead petitioner of the ordinance change spoke at the council meeting saying that the initiative achieves a meaningful reduction of cruise ship visitation. He said the town’s new plan isn’t quite enough. He said that the ordinance would be enforceable until the voters changed it whereas the town’s plan relied on agreements with the cruise lines.

“You have to respect everyone’s view even if it’s the minority,” he said adding that he believes the initiative’s lawn signs have been disappearing while candidate signs and library support signs are staying.

The petition calls for limiting the number of disembarkations of cruise ship passengers to 1,000 a day. It also creates a new set of procedures for permits that property owners in town can be issued to accept disembarking passengers. If voted in, the system would require the town’s harbormaster to create a reservation system for transporting passengers off cruise ships and also creates a counting mechanism. Then the town’s code enforcement office would have to ensure compliance. Lack of compliance would be $100 per passenger who wasn’t authorized to disembark. 

A Crooked Road resident said that when he first came to the island, it seemed like everything boarded up on Labor Day and believes cruise ships have helped extend the season, keeping businesses and restaurants open. He said only 1,000 passengers a day seemed extreme. The three remaining commenters voiced their support of the petition. One cited pollution and cruise ships potentially interfering with whale communication. Another said that she wanted Bar Harbor citizens to be able to quell “the relentless increase” in cruise ship visits. The third said that she now dreads spring when it used to be exciting and feels resentment for tourists, which is not an emotion she enjoys.

“It’s too much,” she said.

The town recently enacted an entirely different cruise ship management plan which focuses on limiting cruise ship disembarkations via agreements with the cruise lines and using lower berth capacities (the number of people sleeping on the ship) as a counting mechanism. Currently, this plan has prevented 40,000 passengers from visiting Bar Harbor. 

TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY

If enacted, the warrant article would allow Land Use Ordinance amendments a simple majority vote rather than two-thirds majority to change the town rules if the Bar Harbor Planning Board (which hears the proposed amendment first and has a public hearing) votes against the adoption of the change. If the planning board is in favor of the adoption, it currently just needs to pass via a simple majority vote at the town meeting. This would not change.

Ruth Eveland, a former councilor and current member of the Planning Board said, “I am in favor of getting rid of the two-thirds requirement for the planning board vote.”

She believes it gives too much weight to the individual members of the Planning Board. She doesn’t believe it’s a fair way of making decisions. She said that though the requirement has been in place for a long time, it isn’t a good ordinance. It’s an anomaly, she said, in our community and state.

Eveland was the only one who spoke at this meeting. The Warrant Committee voted 14-1 in favor of the removal. The council had previously voted 6-1 in favor of its removal. The Planning Board voted 4-2 in favor of its removal.

MARIJUANA RETAIL STORES AND LICENSING

The third big issue is the citizen petition to amend the Land Use Ordinance concerning marijuana retail stores within Bar Harbor. If approved, the petition would define retail marijuana stores and “place them in specific districts” according to the town manager’s packet notes.  

Only two people spoke on either of the ordinance changes and one was one of the petitioners. He spoke in favor and said it would help with year-round employment. The other said he liked the limiting factor and that it could only be two stores within the town.

DESIGN REVIEW BOARD APPENDIX A

No members of the public spoke about Appendix X. It is part of an annual review about the historic properties in the Design Review Overlay District.

LONG-TERM RENTAL ORDINANCE

After a short public hearing, the council unanimously adopted a new Long-Term Rental Housing Ordinance Amendment. The purpose of the ordinance is to create a registry of long-term rental housing, which is defined as “any dwelling unit that is rented or available for rent for a period of thirty consecutive days or more, in exchange for compensation.”

Council Chair Valerie Peacock said the hearing was the last step in a public process about the ordinance change that the town had been developing.

The ordinance would require that property owners submit a yearly application for each dwelling unit they are renting. Registrations would expire each year on December 31. There would be no fee to register, but there would be a scaled fee if the property owner failed to register.  That cost would be $50 if it is filed in March; $100 if filed between April 1 and July 31; and $200 if filed between August 1 and December 31. The properties would not have to be inspected.

One resident worried that the ordinance would reduce the value of his house significantly. He also worried about the stringency of the codes.

Sally Crock said she had two properties and is committed to year-round rentals. “I definitely want to cooperate with improvements. I have the concern with if there are mandates that go along with the next step in the process what might be the resources available to support the necessary improvements?”

Sidman said, “Many times when you make a regulation change there’s a grandfathering” that happens. He added that he hoped that this would continue for long-term rentals.

Council Vice Chair Matthew Hochman said that his only concern is not necessarily about ceiling height but about life safety issues in the rentals. There’s no inspection piece in the ordinance yet, he said. “My concern has always been—we have seen fires that could have ended badly if there were not proper ingress and egress.” Are they safe? he wondered and added, “We know that there are some in town that are not.”

Councilor Erin Cough said she worried about the requirements now necessary to pass short-term rental registration. There are 100-plus-year-old houses, she said and asked if there was some type of variance that the town could give when they are just a few inches off for things such as ceiling height?

Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain said that the recent changes approved by the council does give some flexibility. She said the concern with short-term rentals is that they might not know what to do during a fire. “In the middle of the night and there’s an emergency, it’s dark and they are confused and they don’t know where to go in that space.” She said those important aspects of the inspection process include a tenant notification system, building elements to slow or prevent fires as well as egress.

“We’re going to try to be much less strict with long-term rentals,” Chamberlain said.

APPOINTMENTS

Councilors considered four board and committee appointments on Tuesday night. Three of the candidates received votes of 2-0 from the Appointments Committee, which consisted of Hochman and Councilor Jeff Dobbs. Councilor Jill Goldthwait was absent. However, to be appointed, candidates had to receive a majority of votes from the town council at a council meeting.

Nathan Young was up for the Board of Appeals and approved 2-0 by that committee. However, Peacock nominated Cara Ryan during the meeting. Ryan had also applied. The council voted 4-3 in favor of Ryan. There was no discussion.

Mike Rogers was appointed to the Design Review Board and Micala Delepierre was appointed to the Harbor Committee.

Between the time the committee met and the agenda was released, another Appointments Committee interview occurred. The council unanimously appointed Kate Macko to the Design Review Board. There was no public information available about her prior to the meeting. All the votes except for the Board of Appeal’s were unanimous.

Delepierre is a College of the Atlantic graduate with six years of experience working in various jobs in the maritime world and a captain’s license. Rogers has 15 years as a landscape architect. Young is a former Bar Harbor police chief and the committee said he had extensive knowledge of the land use ordinance and committee. Ryan was previously a member of the Warrant Committee.

PUBLIC COMMENT

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Annlinn Kruger spoke about her concern about first amendment expression (via chalking on the town’s sidewalk) after interactions with Town Manager Kevin Sutherland. Kruger has been speaking to this issue at council meetings throughout the fall.

Town Council meeting protocol does not allow a back-and-forth during the meeting, however Councilor Gary Friedmann expressed a desire to respond. Peacock asked him to do so during councilor comments at the end of the meeting. At that time, Friedman said that he wanted to “apologize on behalf of the town for mistakes made by our employees that were hurtful to Annlinn” as well as to her campaign. Kruger’s campaign is about Leonard Leo, who is a Northeast Harbor summer resident and conservative activist who has often been cited as a leading influence in successfully increasing the appointment of conservative judges. He is also credited with creating a coalition of conservative groups. Kruger and 15 other Bar Harbor residents recently sent a letter to the council citing their concerns.

During council remarks, Goldthwait expressed concern over Kruger’s comments and frustration about not being able to respond. Dobbs later said that he felt the same way as Goldthwait and addressing Sutherland said, “I want our town manager to know we are behind him 100 percent.”

During his remarks, Friedmann also said that part of living in a town is a recognition that everyone  “is all in this this together.” He said everyone “can and must treat each other as friends.” He also called for an end to what he characterized as “harsh and antagonistic” criticisms of the manager and council. He called the town manager an effective, honest, and valuable leader and said that all town leaders make mistakes and alluded that the council had dealt with Sutherland’s.

Peacock said in her remarks that in general (and not specifically about Kruger), that meeting protocols and regular meeting rules make it challenging to run a council meeting when her natural instinct is toward open, back and forth conversation.

The next day, Kruger sent the council an email stating, “I would like to emphasize as strongly as possible that I have never asked for an apology nor am I interested in one. This is not ‘a situation with Annlinn’ and framing it as such elides the fact that this is a situation concerning our First Amendment rights and our right to be free of official oppression in exercising them. The situation is substantially about questions of abuse of government office and misuse of government resources by Bar Harbor Town Manager Kevin Sutherland, as evidently approved by the Bar Harbor Town Council.”


LEARN MORE

To watch the town council meeting.

To read the potential changes in the ordinance and Chief Willis’ memo, head to the town council packet, pages 69-73.

For more about the Bar Harbor Planning Board, click here.

For a global historical analysis of supermajorities, click here.

For our earlier story and more information about super majority and Bar Harbor’s two-thirds rule, click here.

Town’s page with cruise ship information including schedules and pollution studies as well as the town’s new cruise ship management plan and congestion studies.


Bar Harbor Story is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s