May 2 Town Council Meeting
MAY 3, 2023
BAR HARBOR—In what was Council Chair Valerie Peacock’s last meeting before the June election, Tuesday night, the Town Council approved its first employee living quarters application, new flags and gay-pride and transgender-support crosswalks on Main Street, and asked the town’s attorney to work on the ethics ordinance. Councilor Gary Friedmann was not in attendance. It was the second-to-last meetings for Councilors Jill Goldthwait, who is not running for reelection and Clark Stivers, who was appointed to fill the remainder of Jeff Dobbs’ term, which ends in June.
EMPLOYEE LIVING QUARTERS
Witham Family LLC asked for accommodations on-site at 119 Eden Street for 16 employees
“And there’s our first ELQ permit issued as a town,” Peacock said after the quick process.
According to the town’s code the council must have a public hearing “at which the testimony of the applicant and any interested member of the public shall be taken.”
No members of the public spoke about the application. There were no comments from the applicant and there was also no discussion from the council and it passed unanimously. The code also says that the council may grant the license after the hearing if the application satisfies the code’s terms and conditions.
In the document from 2019 that the town created for a public information session, it states, “Bar Harbor has struggled for many years to find the right balance between fostering a variety of employee housing and protecting single-family neighborhoods. A proposed amendment to the land use ordinance, relating to employee housing (known generally as the dormitory amendment) was brought forward, discussed, and debated earlier this year. On July 16, 2019, the Town Council voted not to place the proposed dormitory amendment on the November 2019 ballot.”
Instead, the planning and code department and an ad hoc advisory group revised that amendment. That group consisted of Kevin DesVeaux, Misha Mytar, Tom St. Germain, and Lilea Simis. The document gives a snapshot of 2019 sites that had dormitory/employee housing type situations or needs, which included the YWCA, Acadia Corp. Housing, MDI Hospital, and Ocean Properties.
The document defined employee living quarters as
“An accessory use in an accessory structure, or in part of the principal structure, consisting of a series of rooms containing beds, where the occupants do not constitute a family or a single housekeeping unit. It shall be used exclusively for the accommodation of employees that are employed on- or off-site, as long as the off-site employees are employed by the same company, a parent company, or a subsidiary that owns the parcel where the principal structure is located.”
BAR HARBOR PRIDE
The council unanimously approved new flags and the painting of two crosswalks on Main Street in celebration of LGBTQIA+Pride month in June. The flags have no advertisements this year.
“They would like to continue the relationship of the multi-colored crosswalk,” interim Town Manager and Finance Director Sarah Gilbert said of Bar Harbor Pride. That rainbow crosswalk would be by the First National Bank as it has in years past.
“They also asked for a second sidewalk,” It would be by the corner of Main and Firefly. This second crosswalk would be to celebrate transgender community members.
The pride flags have a new design this year. Those would be up for the month of June as well.
“I have supported this every year and I will continue to support them this year,” Council Vice Chair Matthew Hochman said.
Peacock gave a presentation about the town’s Ethics Ordinance and said that there were more than 100 responses on PolCo, the town’s survey site, about the ordinance. The policy has authority from the town charter, which gives the Town Council authority to adopt and amend that ordinance.
“This ethics ordinance lays out basically how committee members should be acting as they are involved in town business,” Peacock said.
“It undermines public trust if we don’t” pay attention to conflicts of interest, Peacock said.
Peacock said there was frequent mentions to financial interest and special interest in the definition of conflict of interest including:
- Direct vs indirect
- Appearance of a conflict vs actual conflict
- Clarification of spouse/domestic partners/family members
- How to clarify widely shared interests on a board, like if a whole board has vacation rentals and they are working on vacation rentals
There were also comments from those that responded to the PolCo survey about determining a conflicts and who can declare that someone has one, what happens to quorum if there are multiple people who have a conflict, does leaving one’s seat mean leaving the room or the meeting or just their seat? She said other comments said the ordinance was difficult to understand and “legalize.”
“Right now the Ethics Ordinance applies to every board evenly,” Peacock said. She asked if they need different standards for a board that is advisory rather than boards that make policy.
Other topics included:
- Clarification of staff and elected official relationships
- Town officials or board members joining a lawsuit against the town,
- Provisions for staff,
Most of the comments were about implementation and enforcement, Peacock said. She said that was the bulk of the feedback.
Hochman spoke about aligning the ordinance with state rules and also making sure that they remember board and committee members still have their rights protected. He said the current ordinance is too open to interpretation and that multiple boards and committees have interpreted them differently.
Town attorney Steve Wagner from Rudman Winchell agreed. “You have a constitutional interest in being able to participate just like any other member of the public would.”
He wouldn’t advise those people with conflicts to leave the room once they are recused (step down and do not vote). He also mentioned whether or not different boards that are quasi-judicial rather than advisory should have different procedures. Currently, Bar Harbor’s ordinance doesn’t make that distinction. He mentioned the Marine Resources Committee, which is so specified that you want people in the business on the body because they have extensive knowledge about working waterfronts and shellfish. Many things they do could be considered a conflict of interest.
Peacock mentioned the Cruise Ship Committee, which is advisory, how people are currently uncomfortable with that. “It’s hard to distinguish for the general public,” Peacock said. The Task Force on Climate Change and Parks and Recreation Committee also either have assigned members meant to represent the expertise or members with expertise.
Hochman said that the Planning Board, though not advisory, is similar because it often is filled with people with development experience and knowledge to understand the applications but to members of the public that feels like a conflict of interest. “I don’t know how we solve that because those are the people who should be on the committees,” he said.
Councilor Erin Cough said part of it is a cultural change for the public and that the town would have to get that information out about the difference between board that makes decisions (such as the Planning Board, Appeals Board, Town Council) and one that advises (Parks and Recreation).
Stivers asked if the expertise in a subject area was truly necessary in the committee members or if members were capable to bring in experts or learn themselves about the topics.
Cough said in a lot of those cases, that expertise probably comes with a price with people billing for their time.
“We are already struggling desperately to fill our boards and committees,” Hochman said. He did not want to make it harder on the committees.
“What is the trigger? What is the threshold for that trigger? For conflict of interest,” Councilor Joe Minutolo said was important to discern.
Goldthwait said she was increasingly anxious about what she was hearing in the discussion and that she felt that no matter how carefully the ordinance is written and “conflict of interest” is defined, something will happen that they didn’t think of. She thinks the way to go about it is as clear a definition of conflict of interest as possible. “I am afraid that we could spend months wordsmithing a document like this.”
The town’s attorney will focus on transparency of enforcement of ethics violations, and training, and will come back with some ideas and recommendations
Josh Bloom lives on the Crooked Road and asked about areas of land on the Crooked Road and Norway Drive and how to preserve them.
Cough said to see if the property is listed on the town historic property list. She suggested checking with the Maine Coast Heritage Trust or state preservation office depending on if there are buildings or ruins on the land. Peacock said if you talk to the Planning Department, staff could help point him in the right direction. Goldthwait also said the Climate to Thrive could help preserve an open parcel.
TOWN MANAGER SEARCH
They received 29 applications for the town manager position, which has been open since January when former town manager Kevin Sutherland resigned. The council met Monday with a representative from the Maine Municipal Association and selected some candidates for interviews and are working to schedule interviews in two weeks. The process will probably extend after town meeting and the June election, Peacock said.
PERMITS and LICENSES
At Your Service Taxi’s request for eight taxi license renewals was approved. The special amusement permits for Bar Harbor Lobster Bakes and Bar Harbor Beer Works were approved unanimously after public hearings. An application for the Travelin’ Lobster was tabled until the next meeting pending clarification of the application.
Deanna Willis, whose house is next door to the Bar Harbor Lobster Bake, asked about how many musicians would play and how often and how long in the evening the music would occur. She rents her house in the summer and a lot of children stay there, and she would prefer for there to be no amplification.
Her sister, who lives next door on the Crooked Road, said that she was worried about the parking and alcohol related to the permit.
Hochman said he understood the concerns, but that the council doesn’t like to presuppose a problem before there is one. There are specific hours for amplified music to be allowed. He said that parking and alcohol questions aren’t part of the council’s purview about the special amusement permits.
The restaurant representative said that the establishment closes at 9 p.m. and they hope to have a local luau on Friday with a local musician playing guitar. They asked for the indoor amplification because their space is also a venue space and occasionally hosts weddings.
Goldthwait said that the special amusement application should be reworked. She worried the pressure on residents to move away from establishments with licenses and then the possibility that business areas would spread outward. She’d like police visitation or lack of visitation because of complaints to be on the application as well as the parameters of use.
Minutolo said that putting a discussion about changing the permit onto a future agenda is a good idea.
The ordinance can be read here.
PUBLIC WORKS PROJECTS
Public Works Director Bethany Leavitt gave an overview of current projects. Most of them are projects that are in construction. These are town led, DOT lead, or community led.
Sewer projects include working with the Maine DOT light capital pavement on Eagle Lake Road. They will raise sewer manhole frames and covers during that as well as on some in town.
The Main Street Sewer Project has a goal of alleviating the surcharged condition in the sewer trunk line during rain events and replace aging and/or failing infrastructure. The main work area is Main Street from Cromwell Harbor Road to Wayman Lane. Water work will also be done on Main Street between Wayman Lane and Newton Way. There was only one bid on the work that came in in March. That bid was rejected because the bidder couldn’t meet the schedule of doing all the work in just one construction season. Now the project has to be rebid. There’s a public meeting planned in June for the project, and Leavitt hopes to start the project this November and either finish November 2024 or May 2025.
There will also be summer line upgrades for the water system, which they hope to do in fall of 2023 or spring of 2024.
They have to replace a water service on lower Ledgelawn Ave. This water serves the Ledgelawn Cemetery. They hope to do this Thursday, May 18. A hydrant across from 323 Main Street will be replaced this fall or incorporated into the Main Street project schedule.
Sidewalk restorations on Main Street’s west side have been completed with the brick work ongoing. The east side is also being done. Sidewalk is also being restored at the town pier. That area sustained a lot of storm damage.
Hochman asked about the town pier in relation to the storm surge. There is an Army Corps of Engineer project to harden the channel and repair the breakwater, which might help with the pier’s soundness and the amount it gets battered.
Agamont Lane is getting a new granite curb. The project will bring road run-off into a catch basin. Another hydrant will be replaced next Thursday, May 11. If time permits, there will be a sidewalk restoration at Kennebec Street and Kennebec Place by Reel Pizza. A portion of sidewalk on West Street by Bridge Street will also be restored.
Woodbury Road, Devon Road, Mountain Ave, Rockwood Lane and East Lane, should be undergoing paving work from May 15-June 30. Shoulder work will be done after the paving. Maine DOT will also be paving the Eagle Lake Road in a project from Norway Drive to Mount Desert. They expect that to last six days. The town will coordinate with Maine Dot to overlay the entrance of the Conners Emerson School. It will support the future school project and preserve the integrity of the driveway if heavy equipment goes through the area.
If the budget passes, she hopes to work on County Road and parts of Bayview Drive and Indian Point Road.
Leavitt has engaged a consultant to work with the property owners on Atlantic Avenue where there has been a multi-year, ongoing water issue. She doesn’t anticipate construction this summer.
“We’re trying to work through a solution,” she said. The flow has been slightly redirected.
Gilbert said that May 15 is the start of paid parking. The permit portal is live on the town’s website. She also thanked everyone who participated in the roadside clean-up Saturday.
Minutolo also thanked people for the cleanup. Hochman did the same.
Cough said there were two debates coming up for council candidates. All 11 candidates are participating in the League of Voters debate, which is on Zoom May 8 for the two-year term candidates and on Zoom May 9 for the three-year term candidates. The May 17 debate will be live and is organized by the Town Hill Village Society, Bar Harbor Story and Mount Desert Islander.
Peacock said that the town’s annual report is out. She thanked staff for creating it. She also thanked Goldthwait and Stivers for their service on the council.
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