BAR HARBOR — The town’s new framework for regulating vacation rentals is ready for prime time after a seven–month-long process capped off with a flurry of Planning Board meetings and workshops in June.
The board will hold a public hearing July 8 on the proposal. Changes can still be made after the hearing, but a final version must be complete by July 21 in order to stay on track to get it on the ballot in November.
The plan creates three classes of vacation rentals with the goal of making more affordable housing available for purchase or long-term rental.
A Vacation Rental-1 is all or part of the owner’s primary residence, defined as the address listed on the tax filings, driver’s license or voter registration. These licenses are unlimited; there is no minimum number of nights for each stay and out-buildings (detached rooms) are not allowed.
A Vacation Rental-2 (VR-2) is not the owner’s primary residence and would still be subject to the current four-night minimum. In earlier versions of the proposal, these licenses would be subject to a cap, but that has been changed.
“There was a lot of concern about the cap,” Planning Director Michele Gagnon said at a June 4 meeting. “A lot of people said, ‘What’s the relationship with housing?’”
So instead of a single number, the number of licenses for VR-2s would be held to 7.5 percent of the total number of dwelling units in the town, as determined by the assessor. As more housing is developed, more licenses would be made available. Existing vacation rental operators in that category would have their licenses protected, and the licenses would be transferable as properties are sold, but new applications would be subject to a waiting list.
Vacation Rental-3 is a new category created following recent feedback. It’s the same as a VR-2, except the “value of the dwelling unit (real property) shall be more than twice the median assessed value of all dwelling units (real property) in Bar Harbor, as determined by the assessor.” This category of license would not be transferable.
More expensive properties, it was argued, are not part of the supply of affordable housing whether they’re rented or sold, so whether or not they’re used as vacation rentals won’t impact access to housing for the town’s workforce.
“I’m listening to the comments I’m getting, and the policy directive, and trying to bring it all together,” Planning Director Michele Gagnon said at a June 4 meeting.
The proposal was first created with the help of a Zoning Advisory Group and after three public listening sessions were held earlier this year. Then the Town Council and Planning Board had a joint workshop to discuss the framework, and the Planning Department held a public session in May to vet it further.
“I think we have to believe in it,” Planning Board member Joe Cough said at a June 10 meeting. The board’s arduous process in those meetings was part of the point, he said. “By getting through the questions we have, we’re actually handling what the public may ask us, and we can say, ‘Yep, we talked about that.’”
Like the Employee Living Quarters and Shared Accommodations changes on the July ballot, this plan includes both land use ordinance amendments and amendments to another ordinance, Chapter 190, in the municipal code.
The former will go to voters in November. The changes to the other ordinance can be made by the Town Council, following a public hearing. If the council approves the Chapter 190 changes, that approval would be contingent on voter approval of the LUO change.