BAR HARBOR — The first of two planned visioning meetings about the use of the former ferry terminal property got off to a rocky start.
The meeting began late Monday in the Municipal Building auditorium, as squeaky floors and the clanking of additional metal chairs being set up made it hard to hear the speaker. More than 100 people had gathered in the large, open room. Some were concerned there was no sound system set up and worried recording devices might not capture people’s comments.
Tensions in town remain high following a contentious campaign over zoning votes last month for the property. Concern about the potential for a large cruise ship pier brought residents of Lamoine and other towns around Frenchman Bay to the meeting to weigh in.
The Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) is the current owner of the property and hopes to sell it to the town. In May, the Town Council approved an exclusive purchase option agreement. The council must decide by November whether to exercise the option.
Leading the meeting were Louis Ajamil, the town’s consultant working on a business plan for maritime uses of the property, and colleague Randy Hollingworth.
Hollingworth presented a series of development “themes” for the site, specific uses and evaluation criteria. They included cruise ship use with a pier allowing ships to tie up, and use as a cruise ship tendering facility.
Other use “themes” included open space or facilities for community events.
“I love everything I’ve just heard,” resident Donna Karlson said. “I feel like I’ve stepped into another universe.”
But she and others said the exercise might be a waste of time because the DOT purchase option requires a “maritime use” of the property, with a “clawback” clause in the option agreement if the property is not developed in a way that’s acceptable to the state.
“I don’t want to go down into Alice in Wonderland if we can’t really do any of this,” Karlson said. “We need a good definition of what ‘maritime use’ really means.”
Warrant Committee vice chair Seth Libby said that the “poison pill” in the option agreement, in which the agreement would have been void if citizen petition Article 13 had passed, “jaded people about what the state is willing to do to work with us.”
Resident John Kelly, who serves on the Warrant Committee as a private citizen and represents Acadia National Park on the Cruise Ship Committee, said the town needs more time to make a good decision.
Some attendees wanted to know about Ajamil’s firm, Bermello Ajamil and Partners, and how much of their business is connected to the cruise industry.
“About 30 percent of our business is maritime,” Ajamil said. “The rest is aviation, health care, hospitality, lots of other things.”
He said while they are the largest consultancy dealing with cruise development activities, they have worked on master plans for cities that recommended not building a cruise ship pier, such as Key West and Juneau, Alaska.
“The option agreement is a driver of the use of the property, but it doesn’t have to be the driver,” said Michael Handwerk, who serves on the town Conservation Commission. “Let us work together to bring the right balance of profitability and best use.”
Paper copies of the questionnaire were due Thursday morning, but comments still may be emailed to [email protected]
UPDATE, July 20: Town Manager Cornell Knight said Thursday that the follow-up meeting planned for Monday, July 24 has been postponed. He said the change was in order to give the consultant more time to process the questionnaires and to give the town council time to consider an interest group process proposed by resident Anna Durand at Tuesday’s council meeting.
A request has also been made to DOT for an extension of the Option Agreement to provide for more time for planning and public meetings, according to Knight.