BAR HARBOR — The Town Council will meet with the Planning Board this summer in for a workshop to hash out housing issues, including potential Land Use Ordinance (LUO) amendments to regulate vacation rentals.
After a discussion at last week’s meeting about how the Town Council and Planning Board were not seeing eye-to-eye on land use and housing issues, the Town Council voted unanimously to direct town staff to work with the board on setting up a workshop for the two bodies.
Last month, the council voted to direct the Planning Board to make a broad range of recommendations aimed at improving the housing crisis in Bar Harbor.
Council asked the board to take a three-pronged approach: looking at changing vacation rental definitions, allowing dormitories and looking at densities, which refers to area-per-family required by the LUO.
Based on comments from the public, the council asked the Planning Board to come up with new definitions to differentiate between hosted and non-hosted vacation rentals, and establish a minimum night stay of three nights down from five. Finally, the council was also interested in new regulations to limit new, non-hosted vacation rentals.
While Planning Board Chairman Tom St. Germain thought the tasks set out by the Town Council were doable, others on the board disagreed.
“What I heard from the Town Council is they’re looking for advice from the Planning Board,” said Secretary Basil Eleftheriou Jr. “At the top of that list we need a study first and foremost. We need a framework to move forward.”
“This is not going to address housing,” board member John Fitzpatrick said of the council’s instructions. “I think knocking [minimum stays] down to two days or three days is a feel-good measure.”
Fitzpatrick cautioned that without goals and objectives in place, “I think making the change right now would be very myopic. It would be harder to take it back.”
Board member Joe Cough agreed: “As harsh as this may sound, [people] not following the ordinance is not our issue … Our issue is: does it make sense from a planning perspective to change it?”
The one instruction from the Town Council that the Planning Board agreed on was to propose changing language in the LUO to allow hosted vacation rentals.
Town Council Chair Gary Friedmann expressed his dismay at the May 7 council meeting.
“The Planning Board decided to take no action on any of the other items that council asked them to take up,” he said. “The Planning Board has basically shrugged its shoulders … they’ve kind of left us in a bind.”
Friedmann went on to suggest that the council propose to voters its own changes to the LUO, without input from the Planning Board.
Councilor Paul Paradis suggested setting up a workshop with the Planning Board instead.
“I don’t want to beat up on the Planning Board,” Paradis said. “They’ve got a tough job and so have we.
“We’re in two different places,” Paradis continued. “Let’s just work with them and see what comes out of that meeting.”