MOUNT DESERT — Of the 654 housing units in Northeast Harbor, only 254 – 39 percent – are lived in year-round, according to Kathy Miller, executive director of Mount Desert 365. That nonprofit organization was formed this spring to increase the stock of workforce housing and promote economic development.
By some estimates, the village’s year-round population has dropped from around 1,000 in the 1950s and 1960s to only 350 to 480 today.
Bringing that number back up will take time, Miller said, but Mount Desert 365 has made a start by contracting to purchase four vacant lots near the village center for construction of affordable, year-round housing.
Three of those parcels are on Neighborhood Road; one is on Summit Road.
“We will be working within the existing LUZO (land use zoning ordinance) guidelines to use the limited space appropriately,” Miller said at the July 20 meeting of the Summer Residents Association (SRA).
“We want to design and build structures that any of us would be happy to have next door if not live in ourselves.”
Town Manager Durlin Lunt suggested that a continued loss of year-round residents would threaten Northeast Harbor’s very existence.
“If we are going to survive, we have to restore the population,” he told the SRA members.
He said he is convinced that the group of seasonal and year-round residents who formed Mount Desert 365 has the commitment and wherewithal to help make Northeast Harbor “the vibrant, exciting village it used to be.”
“If we do not seize this opportunity now, it will not come again,” Lunt said. “I believe this is going to be the last opportunity, at least in our lifetime, to turn this around.”
Increasing the year-round population, he said, will require the construction of more housing.
“So much of the [housing] stock … has gone over into summer residences,” he said. “And I’m not aware of any movement to return them to year-round housing.”
Miller said Mount Desert 365 won’t be developing the four parcels it is acquiring “right off the bat” and that no decisions have been made about the number, size or style of houses. But she said, whatever is built would be attractive and “consistent with the nature and character of the village.”
“When you say ‘affordable housing,’ a lot of people have very negative connotations of HUD housing, ugly housing that turns into crack houses,” Miller said. “That’s not what we want to do here. We want to start small and make sure we get it right, and we want to be good neighbors.”
She said Mount Desert 365 wants to create housing, perhaps both for sale and rent, that is “attainable with the salaries you can earn here in the area.”