BAR HARBOR — Controversy over a proposal to build a parking garage downtown has lent urgency to an otherwise routine land use ordinance (LUO) amendment process this year. A set of proposed amendments dealing with parking garages has bounced between the Planning Board and Town Council several times in the last few months.
At issue is whether to present specific changes, especially whether to present adding “parking garage” as an allowed use in each of four districts as separate questions to the voters. At a hearing July 6, the Planning Board partially reversed course from their approach at a joint workshop with the Town Council in late May.
The board voted 3-2 to combine the four changes into a single ballot question. Chair Ivan Rasmussen, Tom St. Germain and Joe Cough voted in favor. John Fitzpatrick and Basil Eleftheriou dissented.
Rasmussen asked Town Attorney Ed Bearor if a Planning Board recommendation to combine the warrant articles would delay the scheduled vote.
The Town Council is not bound by their recommendation, Bearor said. “It would be the council’s determination how questions are presented on the ballot.”
“The parking issue is not an abstraction,” St. Germain said, in support of combining the questions. “Let’s make it a referendum on whether you want to start to solve the parking problem and stop encroachment on residential neighborhoods.”
Former Councilor David Bowden spoke in favor of the proposed amendments. “Not allowing uses takes your tools away from you.” He said that years ago, a proposal for the town to purchase land for satellite parking was narrowly defeated at town meeting. “What I heard then was, ‘What we need is a parking garage.’
“This is an appointed board. Your job is to do what you think is best for the community in the future. The council is a political board; if they want to kowtow, then let them split (the questions) all up,” he said.
Resident Dessa Dancy asked why the changes are necessary. “If the town had the money, it could build a parking garage in these districts. The definition of ‘municipal use’ is quite open-ended as I read it,” she said.
“We’re looking for clarity in the ordinance,” Rasmussen said. “I’d rather not try to skirt the issue by calling it a municipal facility.”
In a separate motion, board members agreed to support another draft warrant article to add definitions of parking garage and parking deck and adjust language about parking as an “accessory use.”
They also voted to defer the last proposed amendment, deleting “parking garage” as an allowed use in the Downtown Residential and Town Hill Business districts, until June of 2017.
The council is set to consider the new recommendation at their July 19 meeting.