BAR HARBOR — The Maine Port Authority (MPA) and Maine Department of Transportation are moving closer to taking control of the former international ferry terminal site on Eden Street.
“MDOT and Marine Atlantic, the current owner of 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.
Town Manager Cornell Knight told the Town Council and Planning Board at a joint workshop last week that the MPA hopes to sign the lease and take possession of the property in August.
Environmental remediation contractors have been at work removing PCBs and asbestos from the site ahead of the deal’s closing. Contractors have been on-site for several weeks.
“My understanding is the [environmental issues] are all very small,” Town Council Chair Paul Paradis said. “But under Canadian law, they can’t transfer property that has any environmental issue however small it is. That has been a big part of the holdup.”
MPA officials had hoped to begin some limited use of the facility this year, such as ferry or cruise ship tender operations allowed at the site under current rules. They now say the 2017 season would be the earliest any operation is up and running.
MPA also is concerned with zoning restrictions at the site, which spans two districts in the town’s land use ordinance (LUO). In his memo, Henshaw asked the town to consider adding “commercial waterborne passenger facility” as an allowed use in both districts. The proposed definition of that use is broad, including “ferry and/or cruise terminal related operations,” “marina and marine uses,” “pedestrian trails” and “public uses such as open air events and other outdoor activities.”
The Planning Board and council were concerned about that proposed language, as were other residents attending the workshop.
“Anything that says, ‘including, but not limited to’ is a problem,” said Ellen Dohmen, who chairs the town’s Appeals Board.
“If you allow ‘and other activities,’ is there anything that won’t be allowed?” Planning Board member Joe Cough asked.
Some of the proposed uses, like a marina, public shore access and public events, came from community suggestions in the 2012 public workshops about the project conducted by consultants Bermello Ajamil and Associates, Paradis said. “I think those uses should be included. They have been vetted at the town level.”
When the Planning Board met with MPA officials about the land use issues, board member Tom St. Germain said that Henshaw asked what kind of public access the site includes now.
“He said the language came from their lawyers, not workshops or anything else,” board member Basil Eleftheriou said.
The Planning Board saw two options, Chair Ivan Rasmussen said. They could draft a definition and insert it into the two districts, as suggested by Henshaw, or they could come up with a new district. The board decided the latter would be a cleaner and simpler solution, he said, and “more protective of existing zones.”
Planning Director Bob Osborne found a mechanism in state zoning guidelines to create such a special district without the move being considered “spot zoning.” The guidelines have a provision for a “commercial fisheries maritime activities district,” which can be as small as a single lot and must meet specific requirements, like deep-water access.
“It makes sense for the board to haul out the 2012 report,” Osborne said, to see which uses had community support. The town also could draft a new ordinance to regulate events, noise, etc. at the facility, that aren’t questions of land use. “We know the LUO can’t react very quickly to things as they evolve,” he said.