BAR HARBOR — The potential use of the former international ferry terminal site on Eden Street as a cruise ship terminal is set to be discussed at a special Planning Board meeting Friday at 3:30 p.m. in council chambers.
Officials from the Maine Port Authority (MPA) and consultants Bermello, Ajamil and Partners (B&A) will be on hand to discuss plans for the facility and answer questions.
The meeting is open to the public, and community members will have a chance to ask questions, officials said. “It’s not a public hearing per se,” Planning Director Bob Osborne said at last week’s Planning Board meeting, “but I think it would be advisable to allow people to ask questions that they might have.”
Bay Ferries Ltd., operators of The Cat, ended ferry service between Bar Harbor and Yarmouth, N.S., in 2009. The facility has been shuttered since.
“MDOT and Marine Atlantic [the Canadian company that currently owns the terminal] are putting the finishing touches on a three-year lease which contains an option for MDOT to purchase the terminal at any time during the lease,” MPA director John Henshaw said in a memo to town officials earlier this year.
The potential purchase would be financed using bond funds approved in a statewide referendum last fall. The lease agreement was reviewed this fall by the state Attorney General’s Office, Town Manager Cornell Knight told the Cruise Ship Committee at its last meeting.
B&A has been at work on a potential business plan for use of the site as a cruise ship terminal, possibly also including a small marina or other uses, as requested by the MPA as part of the pending lease-purchase deal. The study is being paid for by the town, the MPA and the Chamber of Commerce. A “progress report” released ahead of a public presentation in March is available on the town’s website.
“There’s a subset of folks in town that think the cruise ships are a bane of everyone’s existence, and there’s another subset that think it’s a great economic boon,” Planning Board member John Fitzpatrick said.
Roughly 120 cruise ships visit Bar Harbor each year. All but the smallest ships anchor in the harbor and ferry passengers to docks in town aboard small “tender” vessels. Along with moving the buses and traffic away from the town pier, the proposed terminal would eliminate the need for tender operations, Louis Ajamil of B&A has said in previous presentations, which could become more challenging in the future as the cruise industry moves toward larger ships.
“I haven’t sat down and talked to anyone from the cruise ship industry or the Cruise Ship Committee yet to validate whether or not, if we continue tendering, we will lose these opportunities,” Fitzpatrick said.
In March, the MPA asked the town to consider zoning changes to the site, which currently straddles the Bar Harbor Gateway and Shoreland General Development III districts, adding allowed uses relevant to the project.
Osborne, the town’s planning director, recommended creation of a new “shoreland maritime activities district” as outlined in state guidelines, which can be as small as a single lot and must meet specific requirements, like deep-water access.
When uses for such a district were discussed this summer, Planning Board members expressed concern that language for the proposed new district might be too broad. They also discussed in a joint workshop with the town council how oversight of occasional activities and events at the facility is not within the purview of the Planning Board or the land use ordinance.
Some aspects of regulating the proposed facility, such as passenger caps, would be addressed by other town ordinances and policies. “This [zoning] isn’t our one shot at trying to get this right; there are other elements that come into play that the Town Council will have to weigh in on,” Planning Board member Joe Cough said at last week’s meeting.