BAR HARBOR — Four residents have stepped forward as candidates for three open seats on the Town Council here. Erica Brooks, Stephen Coston, Erin Early Ward and Judie Noonan shared their views about town issues in a debate Tuesday evening sponsored by the Islander and moderated by Editor Earl Brechlin.
Voters will choose new councilors and school board members at town meeting elections June 13.
Originally from the Bangor area, Brooks has been a real estate broker on Mount Desert Island for 10 years. She owns and lives in a four-unit building downtown and rents the other units year-round.
She hopes her experience in real estate, talking with residents and property owners as they prepare to buy or sell, will be useful as the town tackles housing issues. “I think we can find a way to keep year-round community members and owners of investment properties all happy,” she said. “We have to maintain a balance. We’re trying to make an effective plan for a sustainable future.”
She said when the town moved to limit weekly rentals in 2006, it created unintended consequences, and that policy was rescinded a few years later. She pointed to the Pooler Farm development, intended to be affordable housing, where several units remain unsold. “It wasn’t as successful as we all hoped,” she said.
She said she supports Article 12, the town proposal for the ferry terminal, and the bond issue for parking meters. “Our options for increasing revenue are limited,” she said of charging parking fees. “We have a good problem right now, which is a lot of people coming here wanting to spend money.”
Coston said he was inspired to run by the Civility Project put forward by Nina St. Germain and Ron Beard this year.
“I wanted to explore what I could do to contribute,” he said. “You can’t legislate kindness, but I want to be a person who promotes that and is offering reminders. I’ve been involved in a contentious project, and I think everyone was able to maintain respect.”
He’s involved in three businesses: investment advising at Coston and McIsaac, which serves almost all local residents; the former Gringo’s restaurant, soon to move into the new brewery building on Cottage Street, which serves both tourists and residents; and the Mount Desert Street Motel.
The current motel is set to be demolished and rebuilt as a large bed and breakfast, following lengthy negotiations with the Design Review Board and the Planning Board over the past year.
He said his mix of work experience positions him to understand town issues from several perspectives.
He is “torn on the question of building a cruise ship pier,” he said, having met with people on both sides of the issue. “I’ve taken in a ton of information. I’m concerned about the restrictive nature of Article 13. Article 12 doesn’t build a pier, it just keeps the process going.”
He supports the parking meter bond, though he said the idea of parking meters here took some getting used to. “I feel fortunate to live in a town where too many people visiting and spending money here is considered a problem,” he said.
Erin Early Ward
Early Ward said her primary objective is limiting the property tax burden here. “There are households that rent out their house weekly just to pay their property taxes,” she said. “That’s kind of sad.”
To that end, she’s hoping the town can rely more on non-tax revenue to keep up with growing costs without raising taxes. She also hopes the town can cultivate year-round business, providing jobs that would allow kids who grow up here to stay.
She has been a member of the Warrant Committee for two years, and serves on the Design Review Board, Parking Solutions Task Force and Parking and Traffic Committee. “I got involved because I’m not a fan of parking garages,” she said.
“I’ve also attended a lot of council meetings and public hearings,” she said. “I think I’m beginning to understand how the public presents things and how boards and committees react. People want to be able to have a say, and they want things to get done.”
She said she respects the right to bring citizen initiatives, but called the Article 13 group’s decision not to involve the planning department in their proposal “shortsighted.”
Noonan is a retired commercial lines insurance agent who has lived in Bar Harbor for more than 30 years. In 2015, she opened the Bra Harbor store on Main Street. She also works as a substitute teacher.
She serves on the Design Review Board and was a member of the Parking and Traffic Committee for one year. She’s active with the Bar Harbor Music Festival and has served on the boards of Kids Corner and the YWCA.
“We have a lot of challenges balancing the year-round community with the tourist industry,” she said, including housing and “people-moving.”
“I’d plan to weigh the pros and cons of each side, and try to decide what’s in the best interest of the town regardless of what my own opinion is.”
She said the concerns about the growth of the cruise industry here are valid and need to be addressed, but she does not support Article 13.
“I believe the town needs to own the ferry terminal property,” she said. “Article 12 leaves the door open to that purchase, but we’re not deciding on the purchase now. We have until the end of November to respond to the purchase option with the state.”
On the housing issue, she said she would support town incentives for property owners to create year-round rentals.
She said the challenges of supporting civil dialogue in public life are not unique to Bar Harbor, that they are national and international issues. “It’s something we all need to keep working on,” she said.