Design Review Board Discusses Potential Tweaks To Its Oversight

Friday Workshop Also Delves Into Signs

BAR HARBOR—The Design Review Board huddled around two tables pushed together in the Town Council chambers Friday afternoon for a workshop about possible changes to the design overlay district.

Also at the table were Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain, Planning Director Michele Gagnon and Tammy Desjardin, administrative assistant. No members of the public attended the workshop.

The enthusiastic conversation covered potential changes to the board’s design overlay; whether or not the board or the Code Enforcement Office should cover sign approval when not illuminated; town-owned buildings and projects; and whether or not they should have design purview over the Shoreland Maritime District, which is where the ferry terminal is.

Districts and areas specifically discussed in regards to the design overlay were Town Hill, Bar Harbor, and Hulls Cove.

“The main streets need to look beautiful and the backyards to be the backyards,” Sassaman said to the group when discussing focus and the extent of the group’s oversight.

Gagnon stressed that there should be a meeting telling any potentially impacted property owner about the suggested changes.  

According to the town’s website,

“The Design Review Board must review applications for demolition of structures which are historic, the moving or relocation of a building or sign which is historic, any exterior material change to the exterior of a historic building, sign, fence, or structure. Any new construction of principal or accessory structures, except for single or two family dwellings. Any material change to the exterior of a non-historic building, sign, fence, or structure. Any change in existing fences, retaining walls, or freestanding walls, the erection of a new sign, relocation of an existing sign, change of appearance of an existing sign, and seasonal closure of businesses. However, it is advisable to meet with the Code Enforcement/Planning Department staff to determine whether or not Design Review Board approval is required.”

Currently the board reviews projects that are in its current jurisdiction, which is Downtown Village Districts, the Shoreland General Development I District, Town Hill Business, and the Village Historic District. It is meant to “ensure the aesthetic quality of Bar Harbor is preserved” and then gives a certificate of appropriateness if it is. This certificate must be gained before a property owner or renter can add a sign or change a building’s exterior.

However, regardless of the district location, any conditionally permitted use or property which houses a bed and breakfast is subject to design review.

Currently the board’s purview is laid out by neighborhood district. That means that if district lines change, the board may lose purview over some buildings and gain others. The board agreed that this was untenable and thought to do it via the more permanent map and lot number. Those, however can change as lots divide or merge.

Chamberlain had previously said that it was better to do that via street frontages or more permanent landscape features such as creeks.

In December, Sassaman went before the town’s Planning Board to discuss potentially tweaking the design overlay. The board members reacted favorably.  

The group also discussed the process to add things to appendix A. They’d like to put all the historic buildings into appendix A, which is the list of historic properties in the Design Review Board’s overlay.  

Gagnon suggested the board now expend its time focusing on signs. The sign language that is in the town’s land use ordinance is not difficult to force and implement, she said. Instead, she said, give most of that responsibility to the code enforcement office so that the Design Review Board can focus on more substantive things during its meetings. The board would still review internally illuminated signs.

Last year the planning and code enforcement office staffed and manned 48 meetings, she said. To not have sign approval go to the board would be more efficient for people opening businesses, she said. It would keep the meetings for what’s important. If changed, signs would be subject to design review standards but not come to Design Review Board.

All significant changes in the overlay and the purview that are in the town’s land use ordinance would have to be approved November 2023 ballot


The Purview of Bar Harbor’s Design Review Board Could Change

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