Jones Marsh purchase near; Housing Trust applies for PUD

BAR HARBOR — If you hold your thumb and forefinger a half-inch apart, that’s how close officials of two non-profits say they are to reaching their fundraising goal of $450,000, the majority of which will be used to buy 60 acres of land at Jones Marsh near the head of Mount Desert Island.

Meanwhile, one of the organizations, Island Housing Trust (IHT), has applied to the Bar Harbor Planning Board for approval to build a Planned Unit Development (PUD) of 9 to 11 workforce-affordable houses on its half of the property.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) is buying the other half, which is mostly a peat bog and forested wetland, for permanent conservation. It is almost directly across Route 3 from the Mount Desert Oceanarium.

The entire 60 acres was purchased in 2016 for $300,000 by Conservation Limited Development LLC, a creation of MCHT. The plan has been for the LLC to sell the western half of the property to MCHT and the eastern half to IHT, provided enough of that 30 acres was found to be suitable for building a small neighborhood.

The $450,000 the two organizations are jointly raising will cover the purchase of the 60 acres and associated professional services, plus providing funds for MCHT’s ongoing management of its 30 acres.

“If we successfully acquire the property, we would begin to develop a management plan with stakeholder input,” said MCHT project manager Misha Mytar. “That way, we can learn more about what folks might like to see there and carefully consider how public use might fit with wildlife use.

“We anticipate making the property accessible for research and educational uses as well as some amount of low-impact recreation.”

Once the land purchase is finalized, IHT plans to start raising money to build the affordable housing neighborhood. Executive Director Alison Beane said the organization is still getting estimates on the cost, so no fundraising goal has been set.

She said most of the development will be near Route 3, at the front of the 30-acre parcel, which is just to the west of White Deer Circle.

“There are a lot of wetlands and vernal pools [on the property], so a lot of it isn’t developable,” she said. “We’re looking at doing nine houses, and then we can possibly go in farther and have an additional two houses.”

The Bar Harbor Planning Board has scheduled a site visit for 9 a.m. Aug. 10, to be followed by a “neighborhood meeting” in the Town Council chambers at the Municipal Building, where the owners of abutting property and other citizens may ask questions or comment on IHT’s application to build a PUD.

The purpose of a PUD, according to the town’s Land Use Ordinance (LUO), is to provide “an opportunity for residential subdivision developments on large tracts of land to embody the principles of clustering of dwelling units…reducing infrastructure needs and reducing negative impacts on the environment.”

The LUO also states that a PUD is offered “to seek development projects that include affordable housing…or follow the guidelines of low-impact development.”

People who buy homes in the proposed Jones Marsh neighborhood would have to be employed on MDI and have a household income below a certain threshold. The deed to the property would include an affordability covenant that limits the price for which it could be re-sold, in order to keep it within the financial reach of working families in the future.

The peat bog that is part of the 30 acres that MCHT is purchasing is adjacent to the salt marsh that extends inland from Thomas Bay. Mytar said its acquisition is part of MCHT’s initiative to protect undeveloped land surrounding Maine’s most important coastal marshes, which are considered vital “nurseries” for marine fisheries.

She said the Jones Marsh property will be a laboratory for studying the effects of sea level rise on salt marshes and surrounding land.

“We’re very excited about this transition zone between what is salt marsh now and what is a fresh water peat bog,” she said. “Researchers from the University of Maine have been on this property because they are interested in seeing, as the [ocean] water moves up and in, if the peat bog turns into salt marsh.”

The marsh itself is privately owned. But Mytar said it is effectively protected because nothing can be built on it.

“What we’re more interested in protecting is at the edge of the marsh,” she said. “By owning this interface, we can allow researchers to have permanent access.”

An article in a MCHT publication last year said that if undeveloped land around salt marshes can be protected, “marshes will have places to reestablish themselves tomorrow, keeping Maine’s fragile coastal ecosystems intact into the next century.”

Mytar said there are only three salt water marshes on MDI in addition to Jones Marsh. They are the Bass Harbor Marsh and the marshes at Northeast Creek and Babson Creek.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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