Design Review Could Potentially Not Do All the Sign Review
BAR HARBOR—A proposal for shared employee housing on the corner of Mount Desert and Kebo Street was back before the Design Review Board, November 10, and in two unanimous votes, a certificate of appropriateness was approved according to the updated plan, affirming that the standards of the project were met or not applicable.
Board member Mike Rogers recused himself from the board, but spoke during the meeting as a member of the Witham Family LLC’s applicant team, specifically about landscaping aspects of the plan.
The proposal would tear down the existing two-story structure at 39 Kebo Street, reduce parking to the minimum for the use, and there would be a bike rack to promote nonvehicular 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 at an earlier meeting that ideally they’d open the doors on April 1, 2024.
Fraser Architects met the board’s earlier requests and increased the bump-out at the Mount Desert Street entry and Main Street entrance. Fraser revised the windows at the main entry from doublewide to triple hung. He revised some of the lights as well to alter the scale and feel of the building.
Rogers added back in some shorter species plantings at the corner of Mount Desert. The sidewalk that goes to the hotel is still up for town discussion as is the crosswalk. The town still needs to be part of that conversation, Rogers said.
“I feel strongly that having people not walk on the street is a good idea,” Board Chair Barbara Sassaman said.
Fraser said they appreciated that, but the team can’t dictate or show on the plan anything that happens on town property.
The project is scheduled for a public hearing with the Planning Board on December 7 at 4 p.m..
DEVELOPMENT REVIEW PROCESS IN BAR HARBOR
Town Planner Michele Gagnon asked the board for any additional comments on the development review report and process, asking for things they understood, don’t understand, frustrations, or agreements so that the town can move forward making the process more efficient and understandable.
Sassaman said she agreed with it all.
Board member Kate Macko said that she was so new to the group that it was hard to differentiate personal feelings verses personal reactions. She asked if there was a way to synch applications with the standards list as a call and response or question and answer, asking for a shared process that might streamline things.
Assistant Planner Steven Fuller said that they are trying to synch up things between the applicant and the board a bit better. He said that the nine-page checklist for new construction can be extensive and daunting.
“What does the town look like? How do we create standards that really are meaningful? Instead of being bogged down by signs, but being bogged down by things that really matter,” Gagnon said.
Gagnon suggested changing the submittal deadline from 7 days to 14 days. She asked if approval of signs is something that the board wants to keep in its wheelhouse to allow the board to focus more on buildings and also give members more time to explore the language of the ordinance and how the board looks at things.
Secretary Andrea Lepcio said that applicants would think the 14 days would be useful.
Pancho Cole said the deadline change was going to cause a lot of distress on some applicants who throw something together with crayons at the last minute, but Fuller said he believes the extended deadline could yield a better project, an extended deadline would ultimately create a better experience for applicants and give the board time to look at things.
A change in the submittal deadline from 7 to 14 days would have to be approved by the Planning Board. It would have to be requested in December for a January review.
SIGNS AND CHECKLISTS
Currently the board reviews signs outside of buildings. Lepcio agreed with Gagnon that the process might be better if applicants went to Code Enforcement Officer Angie Chamberlain for sign approval and then have Chamberlain kick some potentially difficult signs to the Design Review Board. They also said the deadline change would make sense.
Sassaman said that she didn’t think Chamberlain making a decision on signs would be right, but that there should be a checklist and the applicant should show that they meet those standards.
Rogers said that this is what Gagnon had been saying. He also suggested just creating PDFs rather than having people having to scan things in. “It’s not that hard to make a PDF.” He also encouraged writing standards in plain language.
“You guys are working with a mess in your lap,” Rogers said to the planning staff.
Fuller said that right now the sign applications are a bit daunting. Sassaman said she’d like to have a meeting with the Design Review Board about article 13, the Design Review Board section in the ordinance. Gagnon said a workshop on that would need to be advertised.
“I don’t think this board is ready to just say, ‘Yes, let staff’” review the signs, and she said that she is okay with that.
A recent report conducted by Steve Whitman of Resilience Planning and Design LLC the same man who is working with the Comprehensive Plan Committee, called “An Examination of Bar Harbor’s Development Process” (September 15, 2022).
“That was part of our housing policy framework that was adopted by the council back in 2019,” Gagnon said. She has been talking to various boards, staff, town officials, and the Bar Harbor Chamber (among others) about the report.
The town and the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce funded the report, interviewing twelve people who, according to the report “have extensive experience in Bar Harbor as developers, business owners, or as design and permitting professionals assisting the development community.”
“I’m not trying to solve all the big problems,” Gagnon told the Design Review Board, but she’s trying to improve the process, and listen to what the people surveyed have said. The planning department is trying to “get the whole house organized,” and she wants to have conversations about how to improve the process and what’s helpful and not helpful, what they can do better and how to be more efficient. “We definitely want to look at what are the priorities and what they want to address in the future,” she said. That includes: what they can change; what they can do better; how they can change; how they can have better outcomes.
According to the report there are five main issues and ways to improve the development process in Bar Harbor. Findings included:
Sassaman asked about getting on the Planning Board’s schedule for the design review overlay discussion. Fuller said that it can be put on the December 7 Planning Board meeting.
LINKS TO LEARN MORE!
Our earlier story on the development process.
One of our stories about the development study.
The report is included in the October 3, 2022 packet for town councilors.
Our recent story on WHERE HAVE ALL THE STARTER HOMES GONE with some information about the development study in that context.
LINK TO DEVELOPMENT STUDY (begins at page 55)
LINK TO THE 2019 BAR HARBOR HOUSING POLICY FRAMEWORK
Earlier story about the Kebo Street project.
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