BAR HARBOR — Finding a place to park in downtown Bar Harbor during the tourist season is a challenge. Studies estimate that for much of the day during peak season, dozens of cars are circling downtown blocks, looking for a spot to open up.
Town government has been working on two fronts this year to begin addressing the problem. An appointed Parking Solutions Task Force has studied recommendations from consultants’ reports. They are recommending a seasonal paid parking program with meters and kiosks to begin May 2018. Meanwhile, the Planning Board has prepared a slate of zoning changes addressing parking.
The parking program includes parking meters every two spaces on Main, Cottage and Mount Desert streets. These would be removed in the off-season. The town also would charge fees for parking in town lots, but residents would receive stickers allowing them to park in “resident and employee only” areas and in “sanctuary spots.” Employee parking stickers may be purchased for the season.
The task force report, including a frequently-asked-questions section, is available online. A public forum about the plan is set for the Jesup Memorial Library on Tuesday, May 23, at 6 p.m.
Voters will weigh in on the parking meter plan at open town meeting June 6 at Conners Emerson because purchase of parking meters and payment kiosks would require a $400,000 town bond issue.
“As it stands, townspeople are intimidated to come into town in July and August, and I think that’s a shame,” task force Chair Eben Salvatore told the Town Council Tuesday. “I think under this program, people will have a fighting chance at finding a spot to come listen to the band and have an ice cream.”
The plan does not create any new parking spots, task force member Sherry Rasmussen said, but having to pay for parking may encourage more people to walk, bike or ride the Island Explorer into town. “We may create some spaces that way,” she said.
Councilor Burt Barker said that because he’s not a business owner, he doesn’t benefit directly from the tourism industry. “With parking, we can finally find a way for the tourist to pay something that has a chance to lower my taxes. Other than that, my neighbors and I don’t really get anything from the summer businesses.”
The council on Tuesday also held public hearings on 10 separate parking-related amendments to the town’s land use ordinance (LUO) prepared by the town’s Planning Board. The zoning changes will go to voters on the town meeting written ballot June 13.
Some residents decried the addition of “parking lot” and “parking garage” in some districts as a major change for the town.
“What we’re doing for planning at this point is we’re taking away all restrictions on development,” resident Dennis Bracale said.
But Planning Director Bob Osborne said those uses were allowed before new downtown village districts were created in 2010, and they appear to have been inadvertently removed.
Osborne said Article 3 about “accessory uses” is an editorial change in the ordinance. It doesn’t remove existing restrictions, but it deletes redundant language in some districts.
Six of the ballot questions ask whether “parking garage” should be added as an allowed use in each of six different districts.
“The tradeoff that’s always there [with parking] is, do we build out or do we build up?” Osborne said.
Town staff and some residents have argued for months about zoning requirements for parking garages. Jake Jagel said that institutions such as the College of the Atlantic and The Jackson Laboratory already are allowed to build parking garages as an “accessory use” to their existing facilities, but Osborne disagrees.
“The Planning Board thinks it may well not pass the straight-face test as to what’s accessory to what, if a garage is not subordinate to other structures from a size point of view.”