Common ground sought on an open space plan

BAR HARBOR — Councilors and Conservation Commission members agreed to make significant changes to the town’s open space plan, beginning with the name of the document, at a workshop Tuesday.

Commissioners expressed a desire to use the plan as a working document and resource inventory, rather than a plan recommending that the town acquire land to keep it as open space.

The plan was published in June 2014, as envisioned in the town’s 2007 comprehensive plan. When the Conservation Commission presented it to the Town Council in May 2015, a motion by Councilor Gary Friedmann to adopt it failed 5-2.

When the commission presented an update on their work to the council earlier this year, they agreed to schedule the joint workshop to discuss concerns about the plan and how to make it more useful.

“Those of us who have lived here a long time almost have a gene for commitment to this island and the property we have stewarded for generations,” said Chris Maller, who owns a large tract in Hulls Cove. “So I’m taken aback by those who feel they have a better handle on that.”

“Your heart is very much in the right place,” he told the commission members. “But we speak a very different language.”

About 56 percent of the land in the town is in some form of conservation already, council Chair Paul Paradis said. “I think it’s really important to talk about where we are and acknowledge the conservation being accomplished by private land holders.”

Councilors pointed to strategies in the plan they consider to be “win/win” for property owners and conservation goals, like allowing landowners who grant use of a portion of their land to have that discounted from lot coverage restrictions.

“We want it to be something landowners can get behind, that can be useful in future conversations,” Paradis said. “If we’re not careful with this plan, it’ll have the opposite effect.”

“I think there needs to be greater dialogue,” said Meredith Maller, who attended the workshop with her father, Chris. “The idea of a plan without input from the people who are most affected feels aggressive.”

The charge to the Conservation Commission was always to create an inventory of resources, resident Dessa Dancy said. “The commission has no legal power; its job is research and get information, and it can make recommendations.”

“If it’s a working document, then that’s fine with me,” said Paul MacQuinn, a third-generation landowner in Hulls Cove. He owns about 200 acres. “My concern was that it would become policy or ordinance.”

Jesse Wheeler, vice chair of the commission, said they hope to host more public meetings and invite affected landowners specifically. “I don’t think the previous meetings were an accurate representation,” he said.

“We want to have discussions about land practices that you already are doing, and be able to utilize that,” Commissioner Mike Handwerk told property owners at the workshop.

The Conservation Commission began pulling together existing information for the open space plan in 2012, and in 2013, received a $10,000 grant from the Maine Coastal Program that supported hiring a consultant to help finalize the document. The Town Council that year contributed $11,000 to creation of the plan. Representatives from Acadia National Park, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Maine Farmland Trust, MDI Biological Laboratory and Friends of Acadia all were involved in the process.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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