MOUNT DESERT — As of Tuesday, College of the Atlantic still had not secured the six additional parking spaces it needs to move ahead with plans to build student housing in downtown Northeast Harbor.
But Millard Dority, COA’s director of planning, buildings and public safety, said he is “very confident we will find a solution.”
The plan for the COA Mount Desert Center at 141 Main Street calls for 15 bedrooms for students and two for faculty or staff. But there will be room on site for only three parking spaces.
The Planning Board, which must approve the project, has indicated that three spaces are not enough.
And Dority said in a Jan. 21 email to Town Manager Durlin Lunt, “There is no question the planning board will not approve our plan without finding a solution to this parking issue. Although we have worked diligently to locate more private spaces to lease, we have exhausted all leads, and as yet have not been successful in finding more spaces.”
Dority asked about the possibility of leasing six spaces in a municipal parking lot. But members of the Board of Selectmen were not keen on that idea when he discussed it with them Feb. 1, and Lunt said it would set a bad precedent.
“What I think we’ve committed to do is try to help them come up with the six (not town owned) slots they need,” Lunt told the Islander. “There were suggestions that there may be some private spots available, and [the selectmen] might be able to help [Dority] make contacts.”
Dority said Tuesday that Public Works Director Tony Smith, members of the Board of Selectmen and others have been very helpful, suggesting privately owned parking spaces that COA might be able to lease.
“We’re chasing those down,” Dority said. “But it’s not an issue that’s going to be resolved quickly. It’s an issue the town has to grapple with because, if this project doesn’t go, I don’t know what that means.”
Noting that merchants, town officials and the nonprofit Mount Desert 365 have been working to revitalize downtown Northeast Harbor, Dority said the COA project would boost that effort.
“So, they certainly aren’t going to stop a project on the back of parking, I hope,” he said.
The Planning Board was scheduled to hold a public hearing Wednesday night on COA’s application for approval of the student housing project.
While aiming to provide more parking, Dority said, “Our plan is to completely dedicate a new electric van to that facility to offer students a way to get back and forth [to the COA campus in Bar Harbor]. And I’m going to run a bus to bring students to classes, like I do with the day bus from the campus to [downtown] Bar Harbor and back. So, we can regulate how many [private student] vehicles are there.
“And the summer will be no problem because of the Island Explorer buses.”
Because of restrictions on bus capacity related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Island Explorer will not be making stops in Northeast Harbor this summer. But the COA Mount Desert Center is not expected to be ready for occupancy until the following summer.