Design review process called vague, confusing

BAR HARBOR — The process used to determine the appearance of buildings and signs downtown, in Town Hill and in part along the Route 3 corridor is being called into question by members of the planning board, who say that it is too vague, subjective and “confounding” for business owners to follow.

Speaking during their regular meeting April 1, planning board members, whose job description includes review of town ordinances, took member Tom St. Germain’s lead and concluded that the town’s design review ordinance needs revision.

“There are levels of obfuscation in this chapter that I think make it possible that you could be put in a maze that you could never get out of,” St. Germain said. “If you actually read through the entirety of this chapter, an applicant has a very heavy burden. You could say it’s more difficult to meet all of these standards than regular site plan review.”

Other members of the board tended to agree with St. Germain. They asked for a meeting with members of the design review board to take a look at the ordinance and see if they, too, feel there are improvements that could be made. The planning board’s newest member, Joe Cough, who has had his own run-ins with both the planning and design review boards in the past, said that the subjectivity of the ordinance is the real problem.

“I understand historic buildings. I understand trim matching and that kind of thing,” Cough said. “But if it means the difference between one particular plan and another because someone doesn’t like them because their aunt was allergic to something, that may be a little ridiculous.”

St. Germain, a restaurant owner and business man, suggested that letting “the market” decide what looks good and doesn’t look good might be a better solution than trying to outline every possible scenario for the appearances of buildings and signs.

“Buildings that were put up in this town that weren’t subject to design review seem to fit in pretty well with their surroundings,” he said. Looking at the new Hampton Inn and the new buildings at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel, he said, “they are handsome buildings, they fit in well with their surroundings, and they weren’t subject to design review. The market is going to determine what people like or not.”

Member Basil Eleftheriou, however, said that while he supports changes to the design review ordinance, he does not think the market should be left as the sole determining factor when considering the looks of buildings in Bar Harbor.

“I think we need some sort of guideline, at least when we’re dealing with the immediate downtown area. Because I can see a lot of things going awry,” he said. “But I do agree wholeheartedly that this needs to get tightened up.”


Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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