Land Use Ordinances Meant to Increase Housing Development Head To Voters
BAR HARBOR—After an executive session about the lawsuit over the voted-in daily cruise ship caps, the Bar Harbor Town Council got down to regular business in a meeting that extended Tuesday night for well over four hours, ending shortly before 11 p.m..
The meeting began with Council Chair Valerie Peacock saying that all hands were on deck to deal with the budget. There will be a joint budget with the warrant committee next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Bar Harbor Municipal Building on Cottage Street. The committee will also meet at the same location February 27 at 7 p.m..
During public comments, Jim O’Connell spoke to the cruise ship’s fuel use and the emissions that stem from them. He spoke of three signs near Agamont Park in downtown Bar Harbor that say that you can have no vehicle idling and how idling a bus is a finable offense.
You can throw a stone from those signs to the cruise ship tendering activities, he said, and compared the tender emissions for a day to 4,950 semitrucks idling for 10 hours. Then, he said, cruise ships idle on the other side of Bar Island, and he said that he’s smelled that exhaust on Roberts Ave.
“We’re breathing battery acid,” he said.
O’Connell was one of the original petitioners for the cruise ship reductions and daily limits that were passed by the voters this November.
Also speaking was resident, Anna Durand, “I am just here to acknowledge how much I appreciate the council. You are my community.”
She spoke of how she babysat Councilor Gary Friedmann’s oldest daughter; how Peacock has taught her children; and expressed connections with each councilor. Councilor Dobbs had an excused absence and was not at the meeting due to a medical event.
“I’m really grateful for all the work that you’ve done. You have had a tough row to hoe.” She said that the problems of cruise ship visitations, vacation rentals, and infrastructure needs are not going to be fixed overnight.
Bo Jennings, board president of the Chamber of Commerce, and Bar Harbor resident said he wanted to speak to a narrative of division.
“I wanted to speak to you briefly about a narrative that seems to be running rampant around Bar Harbor. The narrative is that there’s a war, and it’s businesses versus residents.
“I hear it often, regardless of the topic of conversation. Whether plainly spoken or hinted at through alternative language, there is this underlying narrative that businesses and residents are adversaries pitted against one another.
“There is no battle to be won, no Goliath for David to take down. Most Bar Harbor business owners and leaders are residents. Even our larger companies and organizations have lengthy ties to Bar Harbor, and are very local-minded. We are neighbors, we are friends, we, all of us, are the community, right alongside you.
“I share all of this with you for two reasons:
“One. The business leaders in Bar Harbor are here to help. Many of us already serve on multiple boards and committees, and countless non-profits. There’s so much experience we have to offer, and we know how to stretch a buck better than most, which might come in handy during your current budget conversations. I ask for the councilors, and all residents, to not see Bar Harbor businesses as the problem…rather the solution. We offer our time and talents, and hope that we will be taken up on that offer of service.
“Two. A big reason I left my previous home was that Nashville had lost a lot of its local feel, and was being taken over by the huge corporations and outside investors. The moment I saw a Taco Bell bar, I knew it was time to leave Music City. When I first visited Bar Harbor at the invitation of my now employers, Jena and Jeff Young, I instantly felt at home. Bar Harbor’s most successful and largest companies, still felt small and local, a feat not accomplished in most towns. Supporting the businesses in Bar Harbor, removing bureaucracy, engaging business leaders, prevents the desire to sell to the large corporations and investors who will not care about the community like we do. I hear from businesses often that they open simply because they love Bar Harbor, not because it makes the most business sense. I can’t guarantee businesses won’t ever sell. But the tougher our community makes it to do business, the easier it is for those businesses to sell and the quicker we will lose the charm that makes Bar Harbor so amazing.
“I look forward to continuing to work together to make Bar Harbor an amazing place to live AND run a business, and thank each of you for your continued service of our beloved town.”
The seven-month results for Fiscal Year 2023 shows no major anomalies, according to Finance Director and interim Town Manager, Sarah Gilbert.
There is a debt service presentation on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the council chambers at the municipal building on Cottage Street. Joseph Cuetara, Moors & Cabot Bond Advisor, will lead a workshop/forum on the town’s bond position and upcoming bond sales. All are welcome and encouraged to attend.
CIP BUDGET TRANSFER AND CERTIFICATION OF PROPERTY OWNERS AND ABUTTERS MAILING LIST
The capital improvement project budget transfer and the property owners and abutters mailing lists were unanimously approved. The council transferred $20,000 in the current budget from the virtual desktop CIP to purchase a third VM host server.
According to a memo from Gilbert,
“At the 2/2/23, joint meeting of the Town Council and Warrant Committee, Technology Systems Manager, Steve Cornell explained the Virtual Desktop project, connecting Mount Desert and Bar Harbor, would not be moving forward. The goals of the project can be accomplished without the need for virtual desktop infrastructure by capitalizing on the dark fiber project. The Virtual Desktop Initiative currently has $40,000 in funding.”
SPECIAL AMUSEMENT PERMIT RENEWALS
The renewals were for Atlantic Brewing Midtown on 52 Cottage Street and Atlantic Brewing/Mainely Meat BBQ at 15 Knox Road. Both passed unanimously.
LAND USE ORDINANCE AMENDMENTS
There was no discussion from the council or comments from the public on the double setback distances change, floor to area ratio, conversion to multifamily use, and underground utilities. All are proposed land use ordinance changes created by Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain, Planning Director Michele Gagnon and the Planning Board. They are meant to make it easier to build housing. Voters will now have the chance to approve or vote against the changes in June.
Peacock thanked the planning department and all others who worked on the changes.
TAX STABILIZATION PROGRAM
Assessor Steve Weed gave a quick update on the state’s tax stabilization program which is a Maine program that enables some senior citizens to freeze the property taxes on their homes. The program is meant to provide seniors with some expense stability. However, the towns where those seniors live have to make up for those losses.
Weed said that there are 346 applicants for the program in Bar Harbor. Some towns have over 1,000, he said.
The proposed state budget currently has money in it to pay for the program, but he’s unsure if that’s enough to fund the program throughout the state. People who are not in the program could potentially have tax increases to support the program if the state money does not come in, he said. If the state fully funds the program, the local tax payers won’t be impacted.
“In 32 years, this is the single worst legislation I’ve ever seen,” he told the council.
He doesn’t believe it will impact the upcoming FY 2024 budget by more than $80,000. He’s concerned that the money will be taken out of the state budget and also what will happen in the future if the program stops being funded or if more people from Bar Harbor enroll in the program.
Town Manager Notes
Bethany Leavitt finished the EPA grant and did the lion’s share of the work, Gilbert said. Though not mentioned during this portion of the meeting, former Sustainability Coordinator Laura Berry had also worked on the grant.
Gilbert also encouraged everyone to attend the bond discussion on Thursday.
During councilors’ comments, Goldthwait asked for an update on the water issues on Atlantic Avenue.
“We are at an impasse on that project,” Leavitt said. She’s working with the town attorney about paths to go forward.
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