Court upholds ferry terminal zoning

BAR HARBOR — The zoning amendment for the Eden Street ferry terminal property approved by Bar Harbor voters in June 2017 is legal, according to a Dec. 18 decision by Justice Michaela Murphy for the Business and Consumer Court in Cumberland County.

Shorefront property owners James Blanchard, the late William Ruger, Jonathan Eno and Karen Gilfillan sued the town of Bar Harbor in July 2017, challenging the creation of a Shoreland Maritime Activities District. They argued that the change was not in “basic harmony with the [town’s] comprehensive plan,” and that it was inconsistent with state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rules and shoreland zoning statutes.

Their attorney, William Dale, said the plaintiffs had legal standing to file the lawsuit because they voted against the zoning change, referred to as Article 12 on the town ballot, and because they “have had their property values adversely affected by the passage of Article 12.”

The complaint was amended in August to say clarify that all the plaintiffs except Ruger had voted against the change. Ruger, who owned an estate just over a half-mile north of the ferry terminal property, was not a registered voter in Bar Harbor.

Earlier this year, 17 property owners from Hancock and Sorrento joined the suit. They believed their property values would also be diminished by the town of Bar Harbor’s land use ordinance change, since they can see the ferry terminal from their shorefront properties.

The town argued that the plaintiffs whose properties were outside the town had no “particularized injury” from the town’s actions. The court agreed, and according to court documents, dismissed the 17 plaintiffs from the lawsuit. The four original plaintiffs who own property in Bar Harbor remained.

The plaintiffs had also offered to settle the suit in December 2017, “if the Town Council would, in turn, vote at an upcoming meeting that it has expressly abandoned plans for construction of a large mega-cruise ship pier, by either the town or any third party, and withdraw its support for LD-1400 [the proposed Bar Harbor Port Authority bill],” according to the proposal.

The town council rejected the settlement offer.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs admitted it was hard to prove that the zoning change was “not in ‘basic harmony with the comprehensive plan,” and they “all but abandoned” it during oral arguments. The court reviewed the town’s comprehensive plan, and found nothing in the zoning amendment that was inconsistent with it.

As for state statutes, and associated DEP regulations, the zoning ordinance was approved by the DEP prior to the town vote, Murphy noted. Plaintiffs argued that the DEP reached the wrong result.

“In their written memoranda, the parties do not meaningfully address what level of deference should afford the DEP Order,” the decision said. “The court therefore concluded that the zoning amendment passed by voters was “not inconsistent with State shoreland zoning law.”

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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