Ad hoc committee to advise on zoning change

BAR HARBOR — The Planning Board is set to work with a new, ad hoc Zoning Advisory Committee (ZAC) to review the zoning change proposal to allow dormitories in certain districts to get it ready to go before voters on the June 2020 ballot.

The Town Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve a planning process outlined by Planning Director Michele Gagnon in an Aug. 1 memo to councilors.

The process involves forming the ZAC, composed of one Planning Board member, two residents of neighborhoods affected by the proposed change and two owners of businesses located in neighborhoods affected.

The group will provide “feedback and direction throughout the process” of working on a zoning change proposal to allow employee dormitories, rooming houses and workforce housing in certain districts.

The approved process also includes what Gagnon describes as “compressed citizen outreach and engagement.” The ZAC will hold a listening session on Sept. 11, followed by a presentation to planning board with public comment on Oct. 2. Later, there will be a public information session on Nov. 13, and a formal public hearing on Dec. 4.

Gagnon noted in the memo that the town’s current process to change the land use ordinance is a 15-step process with multiple deadlines.

“If, for whatever reason, we miss a step or a deadline, or the Planning Board or council decides not to move the proposal forward, then the next opportunity to vote on this amendment would be November of 2020,” Gagnon wrote.

Gagnon’s memo came after the council voted last month not to move a previous dormitory proposal forward, in a split 4-2 vote. Councilor Erin Cough, who voted against the proposed amendment, said she did not think it was ready to go forward, because “there are big holes in it” and she questioned how it would be enforced.

After voting Tuesday to hand the issue back to the Planning Board with the help of ZAC, Councilor Gary Friedmann voiced his concern that the decision might seem “antagonistic” to members of the Planning Board.

“How can we take this action tonight and communicate it in a way that they would accept it?” Friedmann asked.

Two Planning Board members had already contacted the council by email to argue against the process and the formation of ZAC.

Planning Board member Erica Brooks wrote that she was concerned the members of ZAC “may not have been immersed in the entire planning process that the dormitory [proposal] has gone through already.”

Planning Board Chair Tom St. Germain wrote, “Now I see that another ‘ad hoc’ committee is proposed to deal with this issue. If the council has such little faith in the planning board … then this town has both a function of government problem to go with its form of government problem.”

Council Chair Jeff Dobbs said he would talk with St. Germain.

“He needs to know he’s supported,” Dobbs said. “This isn’t an us against them. The Planning Board is an integral part of our community.”

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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