Bar Harbor housing statistics and commuting facts
BAR HARBOR— Gable roofs. Asphalt shingles. Greenified street spaces. That’s the vision for the proposed shared accommodations for the Witham Family Limited Partnership’s seasonal employees on Kebo Street in what might have been the first shared accommodation dwelling of its size in recent history, which could potentially alleviate a bit of stress for Bar Harbor’s housing pool.
Town Planner Michele Gagnon said that the town had received close to 600 responses to the town’s current housing survey and about 330 of those responses were from people who live and work in Bar Harbor, she said, adding that “70% of our workers do not live in Bar Harbor.” There is a survey for workers and another for employers.
That survey specifically asks respondents about potential support for housing strategies
After some initial tech issues on Zoom for member Joseph Cough, the Bar Harbor Planning Board met on November 2, 2022. Vice Chair Ruth Eveland had an excused absence. There was no public comment and after approving the minutes for two other meetings, the board quickly transitioned into the completeness review for the proposed Kebo Street project.
The proposal would tear down the existing two-story structure, reduce parking to the minimum for the use, and there would be a bike rack to promote nonvehicle use from the residents. The new building would house 84. There will be eight kitchens and 23 bathrooms with showers in the 17,1150-square-foot building. Geoff Fraser of Fraser Architects said ideally they’d open the doors on April 1, 2024.
Board Chair Millard Dority read the definition of shared accommodations prior to Fraser Associates’ presentation for Witham Family LLC.
Those definitions are
Any group of three or more rooms, other than lodging or vacation rental, where for direct or indirect compensation the occupants live in furnished rooms with shared kitchens for more than 30 days. The occupants do not constitute a family or a single housekeeping unit. The makeup of the occupants is determined by the landlord, property manager, or other third party and not by the occupants themselves. A shared accommodation serving a hospital shall not be subject to the thirty-day minimum requirement. There are three different types of shared accommodations:
A. SA-1: three to eight people per structure.
B. SA-2: nine to 32 people per structure.
C. SA-3: 33 or more people per structure.”
The applicant said the building might be the first SA-3 that’s gone before the board, adding that the project was started back in 2016 and they were excited to start the process.
The biggest concern that board members had was about pedestrian flow and sidewalks at the intersection of Mount Desert, Kebo, and Eden Streets. Eagle Lake Road also terminates at the intersection, which is where the town’s only in-town stop light exists.
Maine DOT advised adding a sign to address pedestrians to go to the nearest crosswalk, which was also a concern of Fraser Architects. “It’s going to be a cow path on our front lawn in the interim,” Geoff Fraser said. He said he wants to work together with the town about the area.
The project’s team already had conversations with the public works director, said Assistant Planner Steve Fuller.
“We are finding that most seasonal employees are not using cars anyway,” Fraser said.
Cough said, “It would be nice to have some improvements there.”
No one from the public spoke about the application.
Board members approved several waivers unanimously and then moved to find the application incomplete as it is awaiting several letters. They scheduled a public hearing for December 7, 2022 at 4 p.m..
Witham Family Limited Partnership is not alone in trying to create seasonal accommodations for its employees. KOA Campgrounds also went before the board about reconfiguring its employee housing.
According to the Bar Harbor Existing Conditions Report, which was released as part of the Bar Harbor Comprehensive Plan process,
“Housing is an economic development issue, particularly in a place like Bar Harbor. Demand for housing from employees is coming from larger and small employers ranging from The Jackson Laboratory to small local shops and restaurants in the downtown. There is also demand for a range of housing types and price points as not all employees in Bar Harbor earn enough to afford market rate rents or sale prices in town. Some employers in Bar Harbor are taking it upon themselves to solve their own housing issues for their employees.”
The report cites the Jackson Laboratory’s recent multi-family workforce housing (24 units) for its employees. The lab has stated multiple times that housing keeps it from attracting new employees.
“In another example,” the report reads, “a number of local businesses including large hotels, restaurants, and retail shops, are having to create housing for their seasonal workforce either on property they currently own or by purchasing housing units on the open market.”
One retail employer recently purchased a duplex on Ledgelawn. Though not housing workers, College of the Atlantic recently purchased several buildings near Glen Mary Park for its students to live in.
“As housing becomes a scarcer resource over time, there may be limited options for employees to live and work in town, particularly for lower wage workers, including college students, in the tourism and hospitality industry who need housing priced appropriately to what they earn,” the report reads.
Bar Harbor Planning Director Michele Gagnon mentioned the town’s Housing Policy Framework, created in 2019, and which creates a set of ten strategies for Bar Harbor’s housing needs.
Those strategies were:
1. Develop Short-Term Rental Restrictions
2. Develop Zoning for Employee Housing
3. Develop Housing Needs Assessment and Action Plan
4. Identify Zoning Barriers to Housing
5. Encourage Low-Medium Income Housing through Zoning
6. Create Partnerships with Community Organizations
7. Create Partnerships with Large Employers
8. Secure National Park Service Town Hill Land
9. Ensure Quality Rental Housing 1
10. Reduce Red Tape/Streamline Approval Process
Gagnon said the town has been working toward all those strategies.
As Gagnon mentioned during the meeting, about 70% of all Bar Harbor employees in 2019 didn’t live in town. This was equivalent approximately 2,910 people. The annual wages “for many employees in Bar Harbor are below $40,00 a year, making it difficult to afford housing and transportation costs,” the report says.
The report reads,
“A final issue, with the rising cost of housing and lack of availability, is employees who work in Bar Harbor have to move further from their jobs and commute longer distances to get to work. These longer commutes add to household transportation costs, and as fuel prices continue to rise, cut into their household income leaving fewer dollars for other needs. If more workers are commuting into Bar Harbor, traffic on local roads and the limited access points into town may become more congested particularly during the tourist season. Worsening traffic also produces more localized pollution and a worsening of our environment. Commuting longer distances also has family implications, with daycare options being limited when many workers are commuting so far to Bar Harbor for work.”
Of those commuting, 24% have more than 25 miles each day. It also means that 76% commute less than 25 miles a day.
According to the report,
“Approximately 31% of workers in Bar Harbor commute between 10 and 24 miles to work, 15% commute between 25 and 50 miles, and 9% commute more than 50 miles. Workers who commute more than 25 miles make up just over 1,000 total employees of the 4,156 who work in the town. Figure 3.9 shows locations where workers are commuting in from as indicated by the purple dots or purple shading on the map. There are about 1,300 workers commuting in from nearby communities like Ellsworth, Hancock, Mount Desert, Lamoine, and Trenton. However, there are over 100 employees commuting in from places like Bangor which is just under 50 miles and over an hour away in each direction.”
The report goes on to say that people who live in Bar Harbor tend to work in Bar Harbor (57%).
According to Ridestar, the average commute time in the United States is 52.2 minutes both ways. This equates to 4.25 hours a week. Titlemax has that time as 53.2 minutes. The mean travel time for Hancock County between 2014-2018 was 48 minutes according to IndexMundi.
Downeast Transportation’s rider data shows that it had 50,488 rides in 2019. That doesn’t include the Island Explorer numbers. Of that number it estimates that 35,831 embarkations were commuters.
Planning Board Secretary Elissa Chesler mentioned how when she was travelling recently there were subsidized construction loans for affordable housing. Dority said he hopes that the Planning Board gets some time to discuss those things.
In the 1980s, the high cost of mortgages for employees was sometimes defrayed by employers via mortgage programs. The rationale was that it helped employees have loyalty to the employer and also afford a home. This corporate-assisted housing also helped home owners who wouldn’t have qualified for conventional financing. At the time, similar to now, high interest rates and a decrease in new construction made housing affordability difficult.
A New York Times article from 1981 by Andree Brooks states,
“Like the mill tycoons who built the company towns of the 19th century, contemporary employers are beginning to realize that unless they get more involved in the housing needs of employees – either through construction of housing or mortgage subsidies – they are in danger of losing talented personnel.”
Hospitals, universities and corporations were among the institutions that offered on-site house, mortgage assistance, and relocation assistance.
The Brookings Institute has a blog post stating multiple goals to help make housing more affordable. Those goals include “preserving the physical and financial viability of existing affordable rental housing” as well as shoring “up affordable housing deals in the pipeline.”
“The economic crisis may also accelerate the deterioration of the affordable housing stock or other elements with limited capital reserves and/or net operating income. Some affordable properties could also be lost if they are sold to market-rate investors who plan to raise rents.
“To guard against this, policymakers should protect and preserve existing affordable housing from physical deterioration and financial instability. One strategy would be to offer grants or subsidized loans to current owners in exchange for accepting or extending existing affordability requirements. This may be particularly useful for smaller landlords, who in many markets are disproportionately Black and Latino or Hispanic.”
It also suggests increasing “affordable housing through acquisition” by creating policies to acquire existing buildings as well as “targeting ‘high-opportunity’ neighborhoods—communities with well-paying jobs, access to public transit, and good schools—may be of particular value. Successfully pursuing acquisition takes particular skills—staff capacity as well as resources—so this may not be a universally useful or successful strategy.”
Those three goals are:
RESOURCES TO LEARN MORE
Kebo Street Shared Accommodations – Completeness Review Materials
Applicant: Fraser Associates Architects, 11 Everard Court, Suite A, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
- Owner: Witham Family Limited Partnership, 215 High Street, Ellsworth, ME 04605
- Application: To construct an 80-bed, shared accommodation with eight kitchens and 23 bathrooms with showers, and one apartment for the manager. The structure will include a total of 17,150 square feet (three floors and a basement). In the basement will be the laundry room, storage space and mechanical equipment.
- Project Location: 39 Kebo Street (Tax Map 104, Lot 411), encompassing a total of ±0.45 acres, according to town tax records
- Districts: Mount Desert Street Corridor
- Application Materials:
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