BAR HARBOR — Proposed town meeting zoning change warrant articles allowing most parking lots and garages downtown were shelved by the Town Council last week. During a public workshop on the amendments at the Nov. 18 Planning Board meeting and at the Dec. 1 Town Council meeting, the related Land Use Ordinance (LUO) amendments drew fire from some residents opposed to a proposed parking garage.
“I’ll just go ahead and say it,” Councilor David Bowden commented in moving to delete the warrant articles dealing with parking. Instead, he wanted to direct the board to present a single warrant article at a later date with a comprehensive recommendation for parking-related land uses.
“I think people think that if they vote down parking garage [amendments], then we’re not going to build one they don’t want,” Bowden said. “One that, if it ever came to light to be built as proposed, would be voted on totally separate anyway. Even if it’s allowed, it doesn’t mean the town’s going to build it. Citizens are going to vote on whether to build it or not because it’s gonna be a bond issue.
“But 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. That’s the wrong way to go about it in my opinion.”
The LUO change proposal from the Planning Board aimed to restore several uses that were inadvertently deleted when the Downtown Village I, Downtown Village II and Downtown Village Transitional districts were created a few years ago.
Planning Director Robert Osborne told the Planning Board, when the planning department created the new districts in 2010, “they didn’t do a good job of documenting what language they were disposing of and what language they were adopting. They used the point of view that, well, this is a new district. So they used new language without showing what was lost in the mix. Which wasn’t a proper way to do that, and now here we are years later.”
Osborne initially presented a group of warrant articles to the Planning Board, one for each proposed use spanning all three districts.
Following public comment at the Planning Board workshop, the single article concerning parking lots and parking garages for three districts was split into five separate warrant articles to allow voters to weigh in on each use in each district separately.
Residents Diane Vreeland, Terry Zabala and Donna Karlson spoke at the workshop in favor of separating parking lot and parking garage into separate questions.
“If people go to vote and they say they don’t want a parking garage, and then they go, ‘But I do want a parking lot, so how do I vote?’” Vreeland asked.
Planning Board Chairman Ivan Rasmussen said the town’s Comprehensive Plan calls for “structured and other parking in the downtown.”
“If we’re to take our comprehensive plan seriously,” he said, “and it’s supposed to guide us as we implement our land use ordinance, then doesn’t that language tell you that the citizens who voted to approve this comprehensive plan also had in mind that we have this chronic parking problem and we need to solve it?”
The existing private and municipal lots in the downtown districts are grandfathered nonconforming uses under the current ordinance, Osborne said. That would continue to be the case if the reinsertion of the use was voted down. That means they couldn’t be expanded and no new ones could be built. However, multi-family houses and hotels are allowed to build parking garages as an accessory use.
“A hotel could still build that parking garage [in these districts],” council Chairman Paul Paradis said at the council meeting. “We [the town] couldn’t. That’s why I think putting this on the warrant is actually misleading.”
Councilor Clark Stivers was the dissenting vote on the motion to pull the parking-related amendments. He said if voters could weigh in on the parking uses in these three zones, the Planning Board could use that information in drafting a future proposal.
“I’ll agree [the ordinance] is a mess,” Stivers said. “But it’s some information, at least. That information, once it’s voted on by the people in the town, would then be excellent information to provide to the Planning Board to do exactly what you’re talking about.”
He said he appreciated that the separate proposals are simple and easy to understand. “It’s one of the cleanest, nicest ordinances I’ve ever read taking the part of a voter in a booth.”
Other proposed zoning changes remain in the pipeline for consideration at town meeting in the spring.
Amendments to add farmers’ markets, single-family and two-family dwellings, car sales and repair, home occupations and retirement communities did not meet opposition. Neither did a set of amendments to define internally illuminated signs, clarify lighting requirements for signs and clarify the Design Review Board’s Overlay District and sign review authority.
Public hearings on those warrant articles will be scheduled this winter, and the Warrant Committee also will review them.