Dormitory discussions resume

BAR HARBOR — An ordinance change to allow employee dormitories, rooming houses and workforce housing in certain districts, rejected by the Town Council in July, is back.

The ad hoc Zoning Action Group (ZAG) convened by Town Planner Michele Gagnon has been working on recommendations for the Planning Board to allow dormitories to be built in some zones.

The group has met four or five times in the past month, according to Assistant Planner Steve Fuller. It is not a town committee, task force, or subcommittee, town officials said. Its meetings have not been open to the public.

“There’s been a lot of good contributions from members,” Fuller said. “It’s a good cross section [representing] different backgrounds, and neighborhoods.”

Town Planner Michele Gagnon, who heads the group, said she provides technical information for the group to discuss and review. She uses her big screen projector to look at tax maps of the zones in Bar Harbor. “You can see what’s allowed, and what’s already there,” she said.

Reviewing zones with the feedback of the group, Gagnon said, the Planning Department can make more informed decisions.

Gagnon and other staff recently paid a site visit to the YWCA, which has housing facilities for 45 women in communal shared space.

“We did learn a lot about capacity,” Gagnon said. “With good management … you can have 45 people and still retain personal space.”

“We are looking at doing regulation for some sort of communal living where there is some sort of sharing of space, Gagnon continued. “We have a growing need for those.” She hopes to write an ordinance change that will allow for dormitory-style housing, which would allow housing bought up by employers to return to year-round use.

Any successful ordinance change would have to take into account concerns of neighbors, she said. “Our concern is health and safety inside [dormitory housing] and outside in the neighborhood.”

Fuller said the ad hoc group is no longer meeting at this time. According to Gagnon, the group is on “on-call status.” The group’s recommendations were presented to the Planning Board on Wednesday.

Next, the Planning Board will work with the Town Council on those recommendations at a joint workshop on Oct. 23 at 4 p.m.

Gagnon also plans hold a public information session on any proposed dormitory housing amendments the evening of Nov. 6, at a time yet to be determined.

The Town Council voted in August to approve a housing action plan outlined by Gagnon, which allowed for the formation of the ZAG, referred to at the time as the Zoning Advisory Committee. The group was formed by Gagnon to advise the Planning Board on potential zoning changes.

“Their function will cease when the recommendation is made to the Planning Board,” Town Manager Cornell Knight wrote in an email to the Islander last month, but he also said a new group may be formed to work on other amendments.

When asked why the group is not subject to open meeting requirements under the Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) Knight said the ZAG was “not sanctioned by the Town Council,” and therefore not subject to open meeting rules for public proceedings.

Gagnon used a similar advisory group when she was City Planner in Ellsworth. According to Fuller, both the Ellsworth and Bar Harbor Zoning Advisory Groups were ad hoc and had closed meetings.

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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