Parking changes will be unveiled

BAR HARBOR — A set of changes to the town’s land use ordinance (LUO) dealing with parking will be presented to the Town Council at their May 17 meeting. If eventually adopted, they could be placed on the ballot in November.

The LUO changes were requested by the council in December 2015 in a vote to scrap warrant articles to allow parking lots and parking garages in the three downtown districts.

The reasoning, councilors said at the time, was to separate the larger issue of parking zoning from a specific proposal being debated for the town and hotel company Ocean Properties to build a large parking garage behind the West Street Hotel.

“It’s a shame to kill parking garages in the downtown area because somebody proposed one you didn’t like and it never got voted on,” Councilor David Bowden said at the Dec. 9 council meeting. “That’s the wrong way to go about it in my opinion.”

Instead of asking residents to vote on whether to allow parking lots and garages in the downtown area, councilors directed the Planning Board to propose a single warrant article with a comprehensive recommendation for parking-related land uses throughout the town.

The Planning Board’s work on the recommended changes, Planning Director Bob Osborne said, is different from what the re-formed Backyard Parking committee has been asked to do.

“There’s a lot of context to the whole question of parking,” he said. “The town has struggled with this for a long time. Questions about public parking lots or on-street parking are less to do with land use and more to do with what mixture of free parking and paid parking the town wants.”

By contrast, the land use ordinance lays out rules for how private landowners may develop property. Under the current language in the ordinance, parking garages are allowed in some districts if they’re used “solely in conjunction with a multifamily dwelling or hotel.” They are classified as an “accessory use.” There is no requirement that such an accessory parking facility be on the same lot or premises as the hotel or housing unit it serves.

The goals of the project, Osborne wrote in a memo to the council and Planning Board, were to address goals from the town’s comprehensive plan, correct conflicts that were created with 2010 amendments to the LUO and improve fairness and equity between similar districts. They also wanted to address issues raised through public meetings and issues identified in the Jackson Laboratory’s ten-year master plan.

The proposed changes include clarifying definitions for parking area, parking lot, parking deck and parking garage. In the existing ordinance, Osborne said, the term “commercial garage” is defined but not used in the lists of allowed uses in any district.

The Planning Board held a public workshop meeting April 20 to hear from businesses and institutions what their parking needs are and how the LUO impacts their operations.

Four residents offered comments at the meeting. Pat Samuels said there are no rules prohibiting the elimination of existing parking spaces as lots are improved or expanded. Donna Karlson asked about which municipal properties could be available for workforce parking, such as Conners Emerson School during the summer.


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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