BAR HARBOR — A proposal for employee dormitories, and zoning changes in the area of Ocean Avenue and the former Park Entrance Motel, will go to voters in June. On Tuesday, the Town Council held public hearings on five Land Use Ordinance (LUO) amendments and placed all five on the warrant for the June Town Meeting.
Employee housing proposals have drawn crowds at previous public meetings, but this week residents spoke up only on the Hulls Cove change.
The employee housing proposals represent the town’s second attempt at creating zoning specific to that reality. The earlier plan, presented as a single warrant article for a Nov. 2019 vote, created uses called Employee Dormitory, Rooming House, and Workforce Dormitory. It met resistance from some residents and was and rejected by the Town Council in July.
The Planning Department worked for the next several months to revise the proposal, in a series of meetings, workshops and listening sessions. A Zoning Advisory Group of residents Kevin DesVeaux, Misha Mytar, Tom St. Germain and Lilea Simis assisted in the effort, according to a summary report of the process published in January.
Town staff also made site visits to buildings currently used for employee housing for Mount Desert Island Hospital, Acadia Corp., Ocean Properties and Witham Family Hotels.
This has been a point of confusion at some of the public meetings on the zoning change: The specific proposed uses are new, but in practice many structures are already used as employee housing. Some have registered uses as single-family or multifamily dwellings; others are former hotels or motels and retain that registered use.
The Planning Department is also developing annual licensing requirements for employee housing units “to ensure health, safety and welfare of the seasonal employees and the community while protecting the quality of life of neighborhoods,” according to the summary report. These requirements are to be presented to the Town Council for consideration prior to the June vote on the LUO amendments.
The new proposal for “employee living quarters,” or dorms, exclusively for the accommodation of employees, allows the use in 14 districts, not including the Downtown Village Transitional and Downtown Residential districts that were controversial in the earlier proposal.
The dorms are intended to be built on a property that has a commercial primary use; employees living there may work at that onsite business, or another worksite owned by the same company.
Another proposed amendment would create “shared accommodations” (SA) of various sizes as an allowed use in eight districts. These are distinct from multifamily housing in that “the occupants do not constitute a family or a single housekeeping unit,” and “the makeup of the occupants is determined by the landlord, property manager, or other third party and not by the occupants themselves.”
Three sizes of the SA use are proposed, the largest accommodating 33 or more people, but only the smallest (3-8 people per structure) would be allowed outside the downtown in the Ireson Hill, Town Hill Business and Town Hill Residential Corridor districts.
A LUO amendment requested by Holiday Associates of Naples, one of the entities that hotel company Ocean Properties does business under, drew some questions at the public hearing.
The current boundary line between the Shoreland General Development II district and Hulls Cove Business district runs between the two existing larger motel buildings of the former Park Entrance Motel. The change would move the boundary back from the water, moving about three acres from the Hulls Cove district into the shoreland district. It would also add campgrounds and a new category of transient accommodations (TA) as allowed uses in the shoreland zone.
“The purpose was to show as clearly as we could and as strongly as we could that we’re intending a small-scale reconfiguration of the property,” Eben Salvatore, local operations manager for Ocean Properties, told councilors.
Landscape architect Perry Moore, representing Holiday Associates, explained the reasons for the request this way in the written application for the property-owner-initiated zoning change:
“At least two preliminary development options were reviewed with Town staff, and one with the Planning Board in 2003. Aside from a decision by the Town Attorney that the property was grandfathered for a 58-room motel, the applications were scrapped due to uncertainties over issues of non-conformity and finding a balance of occupancy that would justify the expense of improving the property.
“As a result, it remains in place with buildings and a site that are not consistent with the Comprehensive Plan nor the stated desired character of the neighborhood. It remains underutilized and largely ‘off the radar’ in terms of shouldering its potential for subscribing to Town utilities or participating in improvements to infrastructure and neighborhood amenities.”
Resident Dennis Bracale said that while Holiday Associates expressed a desire to work with the community to develop the plan, “they’ve yet to start the process of working with the community,” only consulting with town staff and the Planning Board. Resident Michael Handwerk said that if any future site plan relies on a grandfathered status for the old motel, the applicant should be required to demonstrate that the new development would have “no greater adverse impact” than the old configuration.
Councilor Erin Cough, who expressed concerns about the proposal when it first came to the council, said her concerns have been addressed. “It still allows Hulls Cove to do what the comprehensive plan wants it to,” she said. “The street side could very well be developed into small businesses and other shops.”
The zoning changes will next be considered by the Warrant Committee.