BAR HARBOR — A proposal to demolish the 12-room motel at 68 Mount Desert St. and replace it with a new 3- and 4-story, 36-room bed-and-breakfast is meeting some resistance. Neighboring business owners and the Planning Board are questioning whether the proposed new business can properly be called a bed-and-breakfast. And, the Design Review Board (DRB) is asking for modifications to the design.
Steve and Cathy Coston, doing business as Mount Desert Street LLC, own and operate the current motel. They bought it from the Witham Family Partnership in 2015, according to town records.
“They want to redevelop it so they can have a good business there,” architect Todd Hardy of Eden Builders told the DRB.
Hotels and motels are not allowed uses in the Mount Desert Street Corridor zoning district that the property is located in. Existing hotels in that zone are grandfathered uses.
But B&Bs are allowed with site plan review and a conditional use permit. One of the “conditional use” requirements is that DRB approval is one of the criteria in the site plan review process.
A public hearing on the site plan for the proposed Mount Desert Street Inn began last Wednesday and is set to continue after the project gets DRB approval.
At the hearing, Planning Board member John Fitzpatrick requested an opinion from the town attorney on whether the proposal meets the definition of B&B III in the land use ordinance.
“It looks and feels like a hotel/motel,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think it’s incongruent with both the letter and intent of the ordinance.”
Robert Bahr, who owns the nearby White Columns Inn and the Cleftstone Manor on Eden Street with his wife, Anne, expressed concern about setting a precedent that “any structure could be removed and replaced with a hotel as long as it has a breakfast room.” He added, “Is this the future of the historic corridor we’ve been working on for 40 years?”
Civil engineer Greg Johnston said the Costons’ proposal couldn’t be a hotel because it doesn’t have public amenities like a restaurant, and it couldn’t be a motel since it includes an owners’ apartment. The board debated whether for a business to be a bed-and-breakfast, the meal provided to guests must be prepared or served in the owner or employee’s dwelling unit.
“We were trying to design it in the B&B vernacular, but we have to follow modern rules, and there are different land use standards being applied,” Johnston told the DRB Aug. 4. He said the other buildings in the district are grandfathered under current land use requirements and thus have more lot coverage and smaller setbacks.
Board members made suggestions for modifications to break up the flat front facade, including dormer windows on the Mount Desert Street side and a first floor front porch.
“I know Bar Harbor at one point had giant boxes down on the water,” board member Pancho Cole said. “We moved away from that; I don’t want to see us move back.”
“There are adjustments we’re prepared to look at,” Hardy told the DRB. “We can’t build the Primrose – they’ve got 70 percent lot coverage. But we’re going to work on that balance” between maximizing interior space and minimizing visual impact, he said.
The DRB is set to review revised plans for the building in the coming weeks, after which the Planning Board will resume consideration of the site plan.
“Whatever they build will be a tremendous improvement from what’s there now,” board member James Collier said. “I applaud that.”