BAR HARBOR — Plans to develop the former international ferry terminal property as a marine terminal, including a pier capable of berthing large cruise ships, are set to move ahead following Tuesday’s vote on zoning questions.
Voters approved Article 12, developed by the Planning Board to facilitate a maritime facility at the ferry terminal property, by a vote of 945-658.
The citizen initiative Article 13, a zoning change seeking to place limits on cruise ship visitation, was defeated by a vote of 918-679. The initiative would have prevented use of a pier by cruise ships larger than 300 feet. It proposed adding daily passenger caps, currently set by the Town Council, to the land use ordinance.
Resident Donna Karlson, who was active in the Article 13 campaign, said she was pleased and impressed that the proposal received as many votes as it did.
“I thought people were very brave to vote how they feel,” she said, “and not be strong-armed by cruise ship industry consultants and the Maine Department of Transportation.”
Karlson said she is concerned that future public input on development of the ferry terminal site will only include the “upland” [closer to the road] section of the property, that the big picture for a cruise terminal has already been decided.
Planning Board Chair Tom St. Germain called the cruise ship vote the “end of the beginning” of the town’s work on the marine terminal project.
“The voters said, ‘Yes, we like what the Planning Board has proposed as a zoning framework,’” he said. “Cruise passengers getting dropped off at Eden Street is not going to happen immediately, not in the next 12 to 24 months. It will require close examination and answers to questions that many of us still have, not all of which are land use questions. People have a visceral opposition to a long pier, and that’s clearly understood. I look forward to us as a community getting it right.”
Ballots were cast by 1,634 residents in the town election, representing 35 percent of registered voters. That’s a 66 percent increase from last year and more than double the turnout from June elections five years ago.
“When people get out and vote as enthusiastically as we did yesterday, I think it’s great for all of us,” St. Germain said Wednesday. “I welcome the participation of an extra thousand voters. Perhaps some of them felt as I do, which is frustration over the way some zoning measures weren’t advanced over the last five or 10 years. When only 400-500 voters vote, I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of the town.”
Town officials have been working with the Maine Port Authority (MPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) for several years on a plan to use the former international ferry terminal property at 121 Eden St. as a marine terminal, including a pier capable of berthing large cruise ships.
But in November 2016, citing apparent political disagreements within the town, state officials announced that a marine terminal owned and operated by the state was no longer their goal. DOT representatives said they hoped to sell the property to the town of Bar Harbor instead for the purpose of developing a terminal. The Town Council approved an exclusive purchase option agreement with the DOT last month. The agreement included a termination clause if Article 13 had been approved by voters.
Updated June 14 at 12:58 p.m.