BAR HARBOR — The Town Council was cool to the idea of adding alternate seats to the Planning Board and is considering beefing the board back up to seven members.
The issue of alternates in case of an absence or conflict of interest was raised last year but never acted on. The idea was floated again last week by Town Manager Cornell Knight after a recent tie vote by the Planning Board leaves a lingering question on the size of the majority needed to pass the proposed vacation rental ordinances at the fall town meeting.
The board is required to give a majority recommendation on proposed changes to the land use ordinance. If the board is in favor, town meeting only needs to muster a simple majority for their passage. If the board does not recommend the changes, town meeting would be required to garner a two-thirds majority.
With one member absent from the meeting when the Planning Board took its recommendation, the board was deadlocked with a 2-2 vote.
There have been dueling legal interpretations and last week Knight said there is not yet a clear legal opinion on the matter. To prevent such a situation from happening again, he suggested having alternates who could step in to vote when a member is absent.
But some members of the council would rather see the board return to its former size of seven members. Matthew Hochman was one of them. He said that the board was shrunk to five members because of struggles to find people to fill all the seats.
“We’re going to have the same trouble finding associate members,” he said.
Knight countered that with this past round of appointments, there were more applicants than open seats.
Council member Erin Cough also said she was inclined to favor adding two full members instead of alternates. In December, the Planning Board also voted against alternates.
Alternates would be able to participate in discussions and attend meetings but could only vote if they are one of the sitting members.
Adding two more members would also raise the quorum, which could make holding meetings more difficult, said Michele Gagnon, the town planner. Having alternates could serve as a sort of training for new members, she added. It could also help keep a full board if there are any conflicts of interests with sitting members.
“You should have no issues always meeting that quorum,” she told the council.
The council ended up directing Gagnon to redraft the proposal to include the addition of two full time members instead of alternates. That proposal will have to come before the board again.