The Jackson Laboratory and Developer's Collaborative withdrew their application for the proposed employee housing project at Schooner Head Road, and plans to reapply.

JAX withdraws apartment application, will reapply

BAR HARBOR — The Jackson Laboratory and partner, Developer’s Collaborative, are withdrawing a subdivision plan for 44 apartments on town water and sewer on Schooner Head Road and plan to submit a new application for a development with a septic system using a different section of the town’s Land Use Ordinance. 

The change comes because, in reviewing the initial application, members of the Planning Board expressed concerns about the modifications of standards the applicants were requesting. 

The board did not vote on compliance of the application at its June 3 meeting; instead the members tabled it after about two hours of deliberation. 

The application used a planning construct called a Planned Unit Development-V (PUD-V), which is intended to allow higher density development if a specific portion is designated for affordable housing under specific rules. 

The lab asked the board to modify those standards so that the number of affordable units would be based on the number of units actually built rather than the maximum possible density on the lot. 

Andy Hamilton, an attorney representing the applicants, argued the board has the discretion to make the modification. The rules in the ordinance provide floors (minimum standards, such as number of affordable units) and caps (maximums, such as development density). “You have to calibrate the floors and caps in a sensible way.” 

Responding to a suggestion from a board member about dividing the property so the density would be higher on the new, smaller property, project engineer Sarah Nicholson said, “It seems silly to have a smaller site in order to build less.” 

Since the development is intended exclusively for lab employees, the board was also asked to waive the requirement for an “affirmative marketing plan” to advertise units to Bar Harbor residents with preferential selection for town employees and other groups. 

Another recent development using the PUD-V structure, on West Street Extension, was “held to the letter of the land use ordinance” on this question of advertising, Planning Board Chair Tom St. Germain said. 

“The applicant was highly scrutinized and had to come up with an affirmative marketing plan for their PUD-V.” 

John Fitzpatrick, senior director of facilities for the lab and also a member of the Planning Board, was recused from the part of the meeting dealing with this application. 

At the first completeness review in May, though, Fitzpatrick mentioned the possibility of proposing the development under a different section of the PUD rulesPUD-O, which would not require that any units be designated affordable. 

The difference is that PUD-O is intended for areas without public water and sewer. “We could go PUD-O and put in a septic system for 160 units even though we have sewer 250 feet away,” he said. 

Hamilton called the PUD-V plan a “more generous way to work with the site,” since using town water and sewer would better protect the Bear Brook watershed. 

“This applicant has worn itself out looking at alternatives,” Hamilton said. 

On Tuesday, lab COO Katy Longley told the Town Council that while the organization has cut some planned capital spending in the economic downturn associated with the pandemic, this project is still a priority. 

The rules in the ordinance “had some unintended consequences,” Longley said, “but I’m confident we can figure out a way to keep the project going.” 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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