Land use ordinance amendments make up bulk of Nov. 2 warrant 

BAR HARBOR — Voters will decide on seven different amendments to the land use ordinance next Tuesday. 

The proposed changes to vacation rental regulations has generated the most robust debate, but residents will also weigh amendments to rules on signage, solar photovoltaic systems, bonus dwelling units, nonconformity, accessory dwelling units and historic properties.  

Vacation rentals are a large part of the housing market in Bar Harbor. The potential changes were proposed to slow the conversion of year-round properties into weekly rentals, such as Airbnbs. 

The new rules would split rentals into two categories: VR-1s and VR-2s. A VR-1 would be rentals that are in the owner’s primary residence; a VR-2 would be rental properties that are not.   

Under the proposed regulations, VR-1s would have a two-night stay minimum and VR-2s would have a minimum rental period of four nights. There is currently no distinction between vacation rentals, and all require a four-night stay minimum.  

An owner would not be allowed to have more than two VR-1s in their primary residence.  

Under the new proposal, the total number of VR-2s in town would be capped at 9 percent of the total number of dwelling units in town, and the transfer of any vacation rental registration from one person to another would be prohibited.   

This has been the most controversial piece of the regulations. If someone wanted to sell a VR-2 and the town was over the 9 percent cap, the new owner would not be able to get a vacation rental registration until the town dips back under the cap.  

Anyone who owns an existing vacation rental would be able to continue operating as long as the registration was renewed annually.   

VR-1s would be allowed in all 34 districts they are currently allowed in, and new VR-2s would be limited to districts zoned for commercial and lodging.  

The town attorney says this amendment needs only a simple majority to pass, though that opinion could later be challenged in court.  

Most of the other amendments on the table have had little to no debate.  

The solar question would allow for the construction and operation of ground-mounted solar photovoltaic systems as a principal use.  

Currently solar projects are only permitted as an accessory use. The regulation would create use-specific standards for projects to ensure they are sited and designed to maintain aesthetic quality, visual character and compatibility with other uses, according to the town’s Planning Department.  

Any proposed system for a principal use would be reviewed by the Planning Board.  

Article 6 would carve out language that would allow for bonus dwelling units –second dwelling units on the same lot where another single-family dwelling unit exists. These bonus dwelling units are seen as another way to deepen the housing pool and would be allowed in 13 districts in town. The bonus units would be required to meet all dimensional requirements but would be exempt from having to meet the area per family regulations. They would not be able to be registered as a short-term rental.  

Article 3 would make 10 changes to the town’s rules on signs, and the articles for nonconformity and accessory dwelling units are largely tightening up language in the ordinance.  

The polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 2. The full text of the articles can be found at 

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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