New B&B sparks debate

BAR HARBOR — What makes a hotel and motel different from a bed and breakfast? And is there such a thing as too many rooms in any of those lodging categories?  

A recently approved 45-room B&B on Cottage Street was permitted using standards that were created by the Town Council and overwhelmingly approved by voters a dozen years ago. But the project has renewed a debate in town about the different types of lodging and the approval process of such projects.  

How did this come to be? 

In June of 2010, voters made significant changes to the town’s land use ordinance by adopting a series of sweeping amendments aimed at relaxing standards in the heart of the downtown commercial district while tightening standards in other parts of town. In all, 10 amendments, initiated by the Town Council and written by the town planner, were proposed and all but three were approved by voters at town meeting.  

Chief among them was an article that broke up what had been the Downtown Village District into two separate districts: Downtown Village District I and II. Changes included the elimination of most parking requirements, clarified lot size, reduced setback requirements, elimination of the restrictions on maximum number of rooms and a mandate that buildings be no taller than four stories. The measure (Article 3 of the June 2010 town meeting warrant) passed by a vote of 932-327. With the passing of this warrant article, any size B&B or hotel, providing it meets all other standards, could be developed.  

According to previous reporting in the Islander, prior to the changes, residents were concerned about a proposal to build a Hannaford Supermarket in Town Hill as well as a hotel development on West Street. Those concerns appeared to be a primary driver of the council’s push to adopt new standards in the various districts. The land use amendments were released by the Town Council in January of 2010 and a public hearing was held in February. 

A concept drawing shows the view of a 45-room bed and breakfast in Bar Harbor that will face Cottage Street and extend back into Summer Street.

The new village districts, which are still in effect today, have different rules and standards for commercial development approval. In the Village II district, which includes Cottage Street where the new B&B will be sited, “all retail, public information; municipal and government uses; restaurants and bars on lots with frontage on Cottage Street, Main Street, Mount Desert Street or West Street; theaters; galleries; artist studios; banks; services; shared accommodations (SA-1); all bed-and-breakfasts; food-processing establishment; professional office buildings; laundry and dry cleaning; artist studio; farmers market; single-family dwelling; two-family dwelling; bonus dwelling unit; home occupation; (and) multifamily dwelling I” are allowed uses. Projects in this category can ultimately be approved by the town’s code enforcement officer.  

Other uses in that district including “employee living quarters; hotel, motel; multifamily dwelling II; parking lot; parking deck; all types of child-care facilities; all types of schools; hospitals, medical and dental clinics; automobile service stations; redemption centers; automobile sales lot; automobile repair garage; retirement community; shared accommodations (SA-2 and SA-3); veterinary clinic” are allowed with Planning Board approval.  

While the review process differs between the Planning Board and code enforcement officer, the latter’s approval requires that the applicant first receive approval from the Design and Review Board. From there a project must meet all standards found in the town’s building codes and pass a series of building, plumbing, electrical and septic inspections throughout construction. It must also get approval from the fire marshal.  

According to Bar Harbor Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain, the bar is high for approval regardless of which mechanism is used. And in the instance of the B&B project, the plan received a great deal of scrutiny, she said, both by her office and from the Design and Review Board, which reviewed the application for nearly two months. “The plans were here for quite a while,” she said, adding that she requested additional information from the applicant and that revisions were made along the way.  

Bar Harbor residents Stephen Coston, Brian Shaw and Tom St. Germain are behind the B&B, and all have other hospitality ventures in town. Coston first built the Inn at Mount Desert in partnership with his mother, Cathy, about six years ago. Shaw was the builder. The 36-room inn, which is in a different zoning district requiring Planning Board approval, met some resistance during the planning phase in 2016 but was approved by the Planning Board and held up through an appeal. Since then, Coston has added a number of other properties to his holdings, some in joint ownership with Shaw, including Primrose Inn, Sand Bar Cottage, Hearthside Inn, Bar Harbor Manor, Little Fig Hotel (formerly Quimby House), Main Street Motel and the Anchorage Motel. St. Germain, a long-time Planning Board member, who was not on the board in 2010 when these changes were proposed, is the owner of Jack Russel’s Steak House. 

“We worked diligently since October of 2020 to ensure that the project met all land use regulations along with life safety standards, said Coston on Tuesday. “The idea that town officials did not give this project the proper degree of due diligence – an idea which, unfortunately, is being spread all over social media at the present moment – is patently false.” 

B&Bs, hotels and motels are allowed uses on Cottage Street. The primary difference between a hotel, motel and a B&B is found in the town’s definitions within its code. To be considered a B&B, a designated innkeeper must live on the premise and meals must be offered and included in the room rate. By contrast, the definition for a hotel is, “A facility offering transient lodging accommodations for transients, and which may include additional accessory facilities and services available to the general public, as well as a conference center.” 

“This project, which is being developed exclusively by residents of this town, replaces entirely unoccupied buildings and will have a net positive impact on affordable housing as it will create year-round housing opportunities for staff members,” said Coston, who added that his company provides a number of employees with free housing as a perk of their employment.  

“The properties that comprise this project had been on the market for several years prior to our purchase of them, and anyone could have bought them and pursued any allowed use that they wished to pursue,” said Coston. “That did not happen, and we ended up buying the properties, and we are proud to be investing in our town.” 


Faith DeAmbrose

Faith DeAmbrose

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Faith DeAmbrose

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