Board scraps design review district expansion

BAR HARBOR — A proposal to expand the district in which the town’s Design Review Board has jurisdiction over signs and buildings was scrapped last month. The planning board voted not to recommend the change to the town council for a future town vote.

The vote occurred after a public hearing, at which many people voiced concerns about proposed change, which would have been a land use ordinance amendment.

During the public hearing, design review board chair Barbara Sassaman explained, “One of the reasons we wanted to change this was that every time the zoning changes, our overlay district changes.”

The proposed amendment would have expanded the overlay according to the town’s comprehensive plan.

“The latest comprehensive plan said that they want to revise standards and broaden the scope for historic preservation,” Sassaman said, expanding the board’s oversight into Town Hill, Hulls Cove, Salsbury Cove, and areas of Eden Street.

“This is a layer of bureaucracy that makes it difficult for small businesses,” said David Bowden, who owns a business in Salsbury Cove. He questioned the need to have design requirements similar to downtown, in an area far fewer people visit. “I could probably take a nap in the road this time of year. We’re not offending a lot of people.”

Councilor Erin Cough spoke in favor of the proposed change. “The overlay district, in my mind, is something that protects those neighborhoods,” she said. Town Hill and Salsbury Cove, she said, “all have their own feel… and historic character that [should be] preserved.”

Eben Salvatore of Ocean Properties, which owns properties downtown and in Hulls Cove, said “people do fear the process” of getting the design review board’s approval. He suggested that planning department “fix what’s already broke before you extend out of town.”

Planning board member John Fitzpatrick said he was concerned about putting new restrictions on business owners who had purchased properties in areas not subject to the design review board’s overlay district, only to find themselves inside that district.

Board member Basil Eleftherou Jr. agreed. “It adds one more layer of control that they weren’t expecting.”

Another concern Fitzpatrick brought up was Bar Harbor’s 12-year-old comprehensive plan. “I think we’re at a point where we are going to have to come up with a new comprehensive plan. We have a new planner… and I think we would be in a better position to wait and give that person a little time.”

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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