Ordinance errors emerge

BAR HARBOR — A number of provisions in the proposed new land use ordinance stand contrary to a 2013 court ruling against the town. Discovery of these errors caused town councilors to effectively pull the rewritten ordinance from the November ballot last week.

A lawyer for the same residents who successfully sued the town over unauthorized land use changes made during a 2010 vote informed the council of the errors on Aug. 4, one day before the public hearing on the issue was set to occur. After the information was reviewed and verified, the public hearing was cancelled.

According to attorney Bill Dale, “many of the substantive provisions of the proposed new LUO were struck down by the court, but nevertheless left in place by the town and now are proposed…to be sent to voters without disclosing the same.”

The provisions Dale refers to are among those that were erroneously added to the land use ordinance during a June 2010 vote. At that time, voters passed an article authorizing changes to three downtown districts; however, the Appendix C table of uses that accompanied the warrant article included changes to nearly every zoning district in town.

Resident Dennis Bracale, along with Betsy Mills, Julie Vehr and Pauline and Robert Maguire, sued the town over these unannounced changes. Last year, a Superior Court judge declared them invalid and null and void. Subsequently, the ordinance was re-coded in order to remove the unauthorized changes; however, as it emerged last week, several were overlooked.

These overlooked changes include the allowance of “government facility and grounds” and “municipal facility and grounds” in multiple zoning districts, the elimination of site plan review requirements for museums, municipal and government facilities in 18 districts, and the addition of child-care centers with no limits on the number of children in 12 districts. The unauthorized changes also included the allowance of slaughterhouses in five zoning districts.

Attorney Mary Denison, who has been working for several years under a contract with the town to complete the re-organization and re-write of the land use ordinance, said Tuesday that she had been working under the assumption that the LUO was properly changed following the court ruling.

“What we worked with as a base document hadn’t been corrected properly, and we didn’t find out until last week,” Denison said. “It was discouraging, to say the least.”

The changes that were made after the court ruling were overseen by attorney Mike Hodgins, who is with the town’s law firm, Bernstein Shur. According to Denison, Hodgins was responsible for matching up the Appendix C table of uses to the orders of the court. In her work to reorganize and rewrite portions of the ordinance, she assumed that these changes had been made correctly, she said.

“The recent discovery had nothing to do with any of the work that (code enforcement officer) Angela Chamberlain and I were doing,” Denison said. “We’ve been working with these provisions as if they were supposed to be there.”

Hodgins did not return a request for comment by press time Wednesday.

Because of the necessary public hearing and notice schedule, required review by the warrant committee and other provisions set in place before an issue can come before voters, it is highly unlikely that the proposed new LUO will be voted on this November. That puts the soonest vote off to June 2015.

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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