Bar Harbor passes vacation rental regs



BAR HARBOR — Voters passed all seven land use ordinance amendments at town meeting Tuesday, including new restrictions on vacation rentals.

The vacation rental vote was the tightest question, with 1,260 yes votes and 840 no votes.

With a mounting housing crunch, the Town Council proposed the amendments to slow the conversion of year-round properties into weekly rentals such as Airbnbs.

The new rules will split rentals into two categories: VR-1s and VR-2s. A VR-1 would be rentals that are in the owner’s primary residence; a VR-2 would be rental properties that are not.

Under the new regulations, VR-1s would have a two-night stay minimum and VR-2s would have a minimum rental period of four nights. There is currently no distinction between vacation rentals, and all require a four-night stay minimum.

An owner will not be allowed to have more than two VR-1s in their primary residence.

The most controversial piece of the regulations is a cap on the number of VR-2s. They will be capped at 9 percent of the total number of dwelling units in town, and the transfer of any vacation rental registration from one person to another would be prohibited.

If the town is over the cap and a property is passed on, the new owners would not be able to get a registration until the town dips back under the 9 percent.

Anyone who owns an existing vacation rental will be able to continue operating as long as the registration was renewed annually.

VR-1s are allowed in all 34 districts they are currently allowed in, and new VR-2s will be limited to districts zoned for commercial and lodging.

Opponents have decried the new rules as government overreach and argue that it will not help create more year-round housing.

There was debate over how big of a majority the article needed to pass. In Bar Harbor, if the Planning Board does not recommend an amendment to the land use ordinance, it requires a two-thirds majority to pass. For the vacation rental question, the Planning Board had a tie vote and was unable to make an affirmative action.

The town’s attorney said that the amendment only needed a simple majority. The vote passed with a 60 percent majority and there’s been anticipation that there could be a legal challenge.

An amendment to allow solar photovoltaic systems as a principal use passed 1,677 to 376. An amendment to allow bonus dwelling units in certain parts of town passed 1,558 to 460. New sign rules passed 1,733 to 313. Two articles to tighten up language around nonconformity and accessory dwelling units also passed.

In all, 2,152 voters cast ballots at the election — 46 percent of the total registered voters in town.

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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