Bar Harbor Wins Lawsuit, Plaintiffs Release Statement
APR 26, 2023
BAR HARBOR—A Maine Superior Court Justice has denied a lawsuit against the Town of Bar Harbor by Erica Brooks and Victoria Smith that stemmed from short-term rental regulations that were passed by town voters in a simple majority in November 2021.
“We are disappointed in the process and the outcome and are evaluating our options with our attorney which include a possible appeal,” the women said in a joint statement. “We are grateful for all the participation and contributions to date and anyone who feels their rights as a homeowner have been affected is encouraged to stay in touch as we move forward. Homeownership and property owner rights are incredibly important to us, and we will continue to work with our legal team to ensure the process is fair and just. Land use ordinances are in place to protect everyone and there are checks and balances in place within our Town Charter to ensure things are fairly vetted and voted on. Doing things the correct way and standing up for property owner rights have always been our motivation.”
The lawsuit centered on whether or not the town had misinterpreted its charter and code when voters approved a short-term rental ordinance. Part of the issue was whether or not that vote needed a two-thirds majority to pass.
That question occurred because at the time, the town rules required a two-thirds majority by voters if the Planning Board voted not to recommend a land use ordinance amendment to voters. The vote at the Planning Board level was 2-2. One member was not able to attend because of a family member’s medical issue. She had expected to be able to attend remotely, but those rules had not yet been in place for town votes.
The amendment created a town cap on the number of short-term rental properties where those properties were not a primary residence.
At the time, the town attorney Ed Bearor interpreted this as an “abdication” of the Planning Board’s responsibility. He said that the 2-2 vote was neither a recommendation nor not a recommendation. Judge Robert Murray agreed in an April 21 ruling in favor of the town.
Town voters also approved a change to the two-thirds majority rule in the last election so that now a Planning Board vote against a recommendation for a land use amendment change doesn’t trigger anything more than voter majority approval. Brooks is a former Planning Board member.
This story will hopefully updated with a statement from the town.
Disclosure: I own a short-term rental in Bar Harbor that I intend to move back into once all our children have graduated.
CORRECTION: I had the wrong verb/subject agreement in the first paragraph, and had mistyped on the second vote count mention. I have updated the article to fix those errors.
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