BAR HARBOR — Voters approved a zoning change making it easier for property owners to add an apartment or house to their land, and the addition of a new land use option called “shared accommodations,” which is like a rooming house, by razor-thin margins Tuesday in a high-turnout election. Incumbent Town Councilors Jill Goldthwait and Erin Cough were reelected and Val Peacock will replace current Councilor Stephen Coston.
Articles 3, 4 and 5 were prepared by Planning and Code Department staff and grew out of the Housing Policy Framework aimed at increasing housing availability and affordability for year-round residents. Article 3, a change to allow multifamily housing development without Planning Board review (unless it qualifies as a subdivision), passed with 989 votes in favor and 972 votes against. Article 4, the addition of an employee dormitory use, was approved 1120-880. Article 5, the shared accommodations question, passed with a margin of four votes or about .02 percent, 931-927.
A zoning change requested by a property owner, in the Hulls Cove area of the former Park Entrance Motel, was rejected 642-1197. A citizen initiative zoning change, adding a definition of “hosted vacation rental” not subject to the current four-night minimum, was rejected 616-1176. A straw poll question about whether school boards should continue exploratory work toward a proposal for a combined island middle school was approved 1,237-598.
The zoning changes were the subject of a vigorous campaign.
Residents Donna Karlson and Arthur Greif, who are married, each sent out town-wide mailers urging “no” votes on Articles 3, 4, 5 and 6 claiming the changes would lead to year-round neighborhoods “going dark” and becoming “hollowed out” as they could allow large hotels to build employee housing in residential neighborhoods.
Proponents of the articles included Witham Family Hotels, one of the companies that has come under fire for buying houses and apartments and using them for seasonal employee housing. David Witham argued that the changes would allow them to build housing that’s better suited for the purpose and return those existing units to the year-round market.
Six candidates ran for the three open seats on the Town Council as the terms of current Councilors Jill Goldthwait, Erin Cough and Stephen Coston expire. Goldthwait, Valerie Peacock and Cough were elected with 1,452, 1,043 and 847 votes respectively. Coston received 578 votes, Christopher Strout 570 and Kevin DesVeaux 534.
Incumbent school board members Dwayne Bolt and Robin Sue Tapley were reelected and Joe Cough, who ran unopposed, was elected to the Mount Desert Island High School Board of Trustees.
Many residents voted absentee in this election at the urging of the Town Clerk, to help reduce crowds and promote social distancing on Election Day. Clerk Sharon Linscott reported that 2,087 of the town’s 4,714 registered voters cast ballots, or 44 percent.