Council candidates discuss priorities

BAR HARBOR — The four candidates vying for two open seats on Town Council each have a lengthy resume of service on town committees and task forces. Two of the four are former councilors, and one is the current Vice Chair of the council.

The Islander asked the four candidates to share their experience and qualities that they feel would make them a good councilor. The candidates also discussed challenges facing the town, and what the solutions they would propose.

Jeff Dobbs

Jeff Dobbs is a filmmaker who runs Dobbs Productions and The Acadia Channel. He served more than a decade in previous terms on the Town Council.

He has also served as chair of the parks and recreation committee, and a as member of the town’s cruise ship committee. Dobbs also volunteers with the Village Improvement Society, an independent organization dating back to before the founding of Acadia National Park.

“I listen to people,” Dobbs said. “People know me. I know the history of the town, as a film maker. I know the town like the back of my hand, and people talk to me. I’m in touch with what’s going on, I live here, and have had a feel for what’s going on.”

Dobbs sees parking and cruise ships as two of the biggest challenges facing the town. He is in favor of building a parking garage and using the ferry terminal property as an entrance point for cruise ship passengers, easing congestion downtown.

Dobbs said he is in favor of tendering passengers, not docking. He said that that method keeps the biggest cruise ships away.

“Bar Harbor is close to a (I hate the word) tipping point,” he said. “We have to grow methodically, and protect the town and the environment.”

About parking, Dobbs said, “we have to provide the maximum services for the maximum number of people. Between a ferry terminal and possible parking garage, we can do that. A parking garage will alleviate the parking we need.”

Matthew Hochman

Matthew Hochman currently serves as Vice Chair on the council, his first term, and is also a member of the Parking Solutions Task Force. He served for two years on the warrant committee, on which he was chair of the general government subcommittee, and on the Communications and Technology Task Force.

“I am not only very willing to listen … but I am very willing to talk to people. I make myself available online, by phone, in person, or by email,” he said. “It’s very important we have a communicative council, out there in the community and available to people.”

Hochman identified year-round housing and “finding a way to balance tourism with the needs of the year-round community” as the town’s top challenges.

His solution has to do with “finding ways to work with business owners and the year-round community to try to find ways we can make it better than both.”

To accomplish that, he’s like to see the town balance the “number of cruise ships, number of vacation rentals … [reaching] solutions that benefit everyone.”

Hochman said he has “work unfinished that I would like to get to,” including “a chance to deal with [the] year-round housing problem.”

Martha Searchfield

Martha Searchfield recently announced her resignation as executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, effective May 31, and plans to focus on running her business, Canterbury Cottage, full time.

Her town experience includes serving on the Parking Solutions Task Force, Age-Friendly Committee, Recycling Task Force, Cruise Ship Committee and Charter Commission.

“I think I have a good working understanding of how the town functions, the process of getting things done,” Searchfield said. “I’ve always been an advocate for meeting in the middle: that nobody can get what they want all the time, that we have to have balance in the community.”

As both a resident of the town and as a business owner here, she said, “I have a good sense of both sides.”

Searchfield sees the town’s biggest challenges to be housing, infrastructure (streets and sidewalks), and “our upcoming comprehensive plan,” which she would like to be involved in.

“I would like to see us become more solution-focused,” Searchfield said. “I feel like we’re just putting out fires, jumping from issue to issue. We have to start thinking and focusing on more long-term planning and find ways to do things better.”

If elected, she said she looks forward to “continuing my work involving the age friendly committee. I think an age friendly town benefits all ages and I think we can be that.”

Peter St. Germain

Peter St. Germain describes himself as self-employed, running Llangolin Inn and Cottages in the summer, and working construction in the off-season.

His town experience includes nine years as a former town councilor. He is currently on the charter commission, and is involved in long range planning discussions for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System and Conners Emerson School renovation planning.

Since his business and home are outside the downtown area, he said, “I have a unique and much broader base concern about the town as the whole,” he said. “I think it’s necessary to have a more broad-based spectrum of opinion.”

St. Germain sees housing and parking as significant challenges for the town. Any planning for housing, he said, should take into account an aging population. “It’s becoming more difficult to age in place,” he said. “That’s something the council needs to focus on.”

St. Germain said that land use ordinance changes are key to increasing housing. “Land is at a premium in Bar Harbor and there’s a lot of opportunity to enhance year-round housing by increasing density. We’re not talking about high-rises; [just] developing properties reasonably for year round housing.”

As for parking, St. Germain said installing parking meters was a good step for the town financially. “It adds additional revenue in addition to taxes,” he said.

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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