WASHINGTON, D.C. — Maine Sen. Angus King has introduced a bill that would transfer 40 acres of a 55-acre parcel of land in the Bar Harbor village of Town Hill that is owned by Acadia National Park to the town of Bar Harbor for the creation of affordable workforce housing.
Acadia would retain 15 acres to build housing for its own employees.
The parcel in question is not adjacent to any other park land, and the park has no use for it. The 1986 legislation that established Acadia’s permanent boundary stipulated that the parcel be given to Bar Harbor for use as a regional solid waste transfer station. But it soon became clear that, for several reasons, that was not feasible.
Park officials, in collaboration with officials of the four MDI towns, last year proposed that the park transfer 40 acres to Island Housing Trust (IHT) to develop affordable workforce housing. But Marla O’Byrne, executive director of Island Housing Trust, said the Department of the Interior decided it would be better to give the property to the town of Bar Harbor, as the 1986 legislation intended, and to change only the proposed use of the property.
“This just came to us late last week, and we have talked with the town briefly about it,” IHT Executive Director Marla O’Byrne said Tuesday. “IHT would like to work with the town on the planning and creation of workforce housing. We are pleased that the senator is moving forward with this legislation.”
King is chair of the Subcommittee on National Parks of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“From National Park Service rangers to hotel staff in Bar Harbor, workers on Mount Desert Island play a vital role in our state’s economy and deserve access to high-quality, affordable housing,” King said in a press statement.
“This bill will help meet growing housing needs and support continued economic success on MDI for years to come.”
If the bill passes Congress, the National Park Service would be directed to work with the towns and other stakeholders on MDI to develop a plan to use the Town Hill parcel for affordable year-round and seasonal employee housing.
The bill is co-sponsored by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who said, “The dedicated staff who work at Acadia National Park and in the hospitality industry in the surrounding towns make it possible for millions of visitors to enjoy the stunning natural beauty of Mount Desert Island each year.
“Unfortunately, a lack of affordable housing has contributed to workforce shortages and created significant hardships for employees who need to live nearby.”
O’Byrne called the housing shortage on MDI “a real crisis.” She said that every week IHT hears from people seeking affordable housing.
“Some have taken jobs here but just can’t find a place to live,” she said. “When workers can’t find housing, businesses struggle to find workers, leading to businesses reducing hours or even shutting their doors permanently.
“This is why making workforce housing possible on the park’s parcel in Town Hill is so important.”
Bar Harbor Town Manager Kevin Sutherland said, “Identifying and modifying the use of this federal land exemplifies a truly great partnership between the park and the surrounding communities.”