BAR HARBOR — Though another appeal is on the horizon, an expansion of workforce housing on West Street Extension got the go-ahead from the Planning Board last week after the board found that it did not have an “undue adverse” effect on nearby historic sites.
BHAPTS LLC has been trying for years to redevelop the Acadia Apartments at 25 West Street Extension, turning the current 16-multifamily units in four buildings into 16 units spread across seven buildings.
The owner of the Farm House, a national historic site that has a large garden and abuts the apartments, has been fighting the redevelopment and previously filed appeals with the town Appeals Board and the state Business and Consumer Court.
Elizabeth Mills, a trustee of the Collier Family Trust that owns the Farm House property, claimed several grievances to the court. Judge Michael Duddy ruled in June that the Planning Board, which had approved the project, should have considered the project’s effect on adjacent historic properties, not just potential historic sites on the BHAPTS 1.54-acre parcel. The judge remanded it back to the board.
Arthur Greif, speaking for his client Mills, said that the new development would hurt the views of the garden and Farm House, which hosts events.
“There’s going to be a very pronounced effect on the viewshed that is only an 80-yard dash away,” he said. “When you’re holding an evening fundraiser, you don’t need the light coming on from a second and third story, which are only protected by a 6-foot fence.”
Greif also said that the employee housing would contribute to increased noise and light pollution and complained that his client found liquor bottles and hypodermic needles on her property when the property became workforce housing. Those and other claims made about the people that live in the housing have been “unfortunate” and “downright nasty,” said Eben Salvatore, the chief of operations for Ocean Properties, which controls BHAPTS.
“That’s not a fair representation of our workers, our people, our families that live there,” he said.
Attorney Andrew Hamilton, who was representing BHAPTS at the meeting, said that the apartments were going to be far away from the garden – about 240 feet – making any argument on adverse impact invalid.
“They are not going to see conditions on this property from their property,” he said.
After almost 90 minutes of testimony and deliberation, which was watched and interrupted by supporters of the Farm House, the board found that the project did not have a heavy impact on its neighbors, voting unanimously in favor of that finding.
“I’m confused about, being so far away, how it could possibly have an adverse effect on the garden,” said Millard Dority, a Planning Board member.
On Monday, Greif said he had filed an appeal to the town’s Board of Appeals and was ready to take the issue all the way to the state Supreme Judicial Court.
The Farm House is on the National Register of Historic Places and Greif said that the designation extends to the whole property, not just the garden that the Planning Board talked about. He also had other issues with the application but said those would come up in later potential appeals.
The proceedings caused heightened emotion. In the upstairs meeting room of the town’s municipal building, Sargent McCormick and other supporters of the gardens held signs that read “Bar Harbor is not a corporate town” and “Protect the historic integrity of Bar Harbor” and “Bar Harbor is not Disney.” They also held up pictures of the garden.
The deliberations weren’t part of a public hearing and the Planning Board only allowed comments from representatives of BHAPTS and from Greif. After several disruptions, the last of which was an obscenity thinly veiled with a cough, McCormick was escorted out of the meeting room by a Bar Harbor police officer.
After his exit from the room, McCormick briefly continued to shout to those inside.
On Monday, McCormick said that dealing with Ocean Properties had been a stressful process.
“We very much care about this town and it’s institutions,” he wrote in an email to the Islander. “It has been a stressful process dealing with the Ocean Properties situation. Every time we speak to the Planning Board they don’t want to hear us; they have already made up their minds in favor of Ocean Properties. They have not seen the site but pretend that they have. It’s a scary feeling to not have representation from your local government—to feel powerless to the point where all one can do is protest.”
The BHAPTS property was developed by a prior owner in 1986 as 16 multifamily units and they have historically been used for workforce housing. BHAPTS submitted an application for the expansion in 2017 and made some reconfigurations, including clustering the buildings, reducing vehicle access and increasing open space and buffers.
Salvatore said that now, four years and several appeals later, he wants to help get more housing in a town that’s starved for units.
“All we need to do is get a building permit and get started,” he said.