BAR HARBOR — For the second time, restaurant owner Tom St. Germain successfully appealed a decision of the planning board regarding parking spaces at his business, Jack Russell’s Steakhouse & Brewery.
The appeals board heard St. Germain’s case on Oct. 9 and agreed to reduce the number of required parking spots for a recent addition to the business.
The decision was based on their interpretation of the land use ordinance that allows businesses a “bus credit” reduction of parking spots required for being on a regularly scheduled bus route. As a result, the restaurant is required to have 18 parking spots instead of 24.
The question of how many parking spots are required at the newly expanded business has been debated since April. On April 18, the planning board approved a revised version of St. Germain’s application to add an event facility to his property. Though St. Germain is a member of the planning board, he recused himself on each occasion his business was discussed.
The approval came with conditions, mostly having to do with the number of parking spaces required at the Eden Street facility. Based on the size of the business (the gross square-foot leasable area minus the basement), the board determined there should be 24 parking spots, with 18 o-nsite and six at an adjacent property.
St. Germain had argued that fewer parking spots are needed because there is an Island Explorer bus stop on his property.
There is a regulation that allows the board to grant a “bus credit” for businesses located on a regular bus route. St. Germain’s request had been denied because, according to the Planning Board, the board had already reduced the number of parking spots by excluding the basement from the gross square-foot area calculation, and they were not comfortable reducing the number further.
St. Germain first appeared before the appeals board June 18. The board decided in St. Germain’s favor, sending the issue back to the planning board for further consideration.
The appeals board instructed the planning board to look at the bus credit question as a single issue, independent of any other parking credits granted, “and in accordance with Land Use section 125-64, in particular citing the protection of public health, safety, welfare and particular site characteristics.”
On July 18, the planning board held a public hearing at which no one spoke up, and considered the issue again. Secretary Basil Eleftheriou said he believed the Island Explorer shouldn’t count as a regular bus route, because it ran on a seasonal schedule. He pointed out that since St. Germain’s business was year-round, it required year-round bus service to qualify for the credit.
Vice Chair Joseph Cough stated that managing traffic is a safety standard. He suggested that reducing the number of parking spots would not lead to increased bus use, and would exacerbate an already difficult parking situation.
The board voted 1-3 against a motion to grant a reduction in parking requirements based on the restaurant being on a regularly scheduled bus route.
St. Germain once again appealed the decision.
At the Oct. 9 appeals board meeting, Board Attorney Bill Kelly laid out the board’s options. He told them, “By statute, the board of appeals is tasked solely with interpreting the ordinance. When you have an ordinance that is questionable, it depends on how it is applied.”
Appeals board member Robert Webber said he took issue with the planning board’s assertion that a seasonal bus schedule is not “regular.”
“There’s nothing in the ordinance that requires a bus schedule to be year-round,” he said.
Webber asked St. Germain if the use of his restaurant drops off in October when the buses stop running.
“I always tell people,” St. Germain answered, “a good week in the winter matches an average day [in the summer].”
Webber said that in that case the seasonal bus schedule shouldn’t matter. “When the bus doesn’t run, there isn’t enough volume of traffic for it to be an issue,” he concluded.
Chair Ellen Dohmen moved to grant the requested 6-parking spot reduction based on the restaurant being on a regularly scheduled bus route, as allowed in the land use ordinance section 125-64. The motion was approved unanimously.