BAR HARBOR — Following a public hearing Tuesday, councilors voted 6-1 to send two parking-related amendments to the town’s land use ordinance (LUO) to voters in November.
Residents concerned about a proposal to build a parking garage behind the West Street Hotel opposed the move to restore “parking garage” as an allowed use in some downtown areas. Planning Director Bob Osborne said garages were allowed there before a 2010 revision of the ordinance, but were inadvertently deleted when new districts were created.
“Article 3 is not about a specific project, but the pricey consultants’ report gave us a chance to see what one would look like,” resident Donna Karlson said.
“What are we doing to this beautiful island?” Anne-Marie Quinn said. “We’re putting parking garages up so that when you look down from the mountains that’s what you see.”
Debate over the proposed changes has been active at the Planning Board and council since December 2015, when these changes were removed from a broader set of LUO changes and postponed.
The existing private and municipal parking lots in the downtown districts are grandfathered nonconforming uses under the current ordinance, officials have said. That would continue to be the case if the reinsertion of the use is voted down. The use couldn’t be expanded, and no new lots, parking decks or garages could be built. However, multi-family houses and hotels are allowed to build parking garages as an accessory use.
Councilor Gary Friedmann said a busy tourist season is a good problem to have. “Most of the state would kill for the situation we’re in, which is an economic engine that is revved right now. If you tie the task force’s hands now, it’s like shooting yourself in the foot.”
He argued that “stacking cars up” in garages and decks reduces their visual impact for hikers on trails in Acadia.
Chamber of Commerce director Martha Searchfield agreed. “We cannot start limiting what we’re going to do before we even have time to look at what the options are. Limiting the options now does a disservice to the town and to the task force.”
Several speakers expressed confusion about when and why the parking garage-related changes were combined into a single warrant article, rather than presented separately by district.
A parking garage is included in a development plan for The Jackson Laboratory campus, and they said they supported that project but not parking garages downtown.
Resident Dessa Dancy argued the laboratory already is allowed to build garages. “They don’t need this proposed amendment; it’s already there.”
The council and Planning Board agreed in a joint workshop May 24 to separate the questions. However, after a public hearing July 6, the Planning Board decided in a split vote to recommend combining the questions.
Planning Board Chair Ivan Rasmussen noted at the time that the board members and councilors “had not had the benefit of the public hearing” when they made their decision at the May workshop.
“I was not comfortable with the outcome of our workshop,” Paradis said at the July 19 meeting when the council voted 4-1 to proceed with the combined article. “There was a lot of reluctance there.”
Councilor Matt Hochman was the dissenting vote on the move to send the changes to the ballot, saying “the overwhelming majority of comments I’ve gotten were from people who wanted these articles to be separate.”