*Correction: In the print version of this story, we omitted a very significant word in the write up of our interview with incumbent Gary Friedmann. Because of this error his perspective on vacation rentals was distorted. The sentence (with the word omitted now added in bold) should have read: Friedmann, a consultant and a founding member of A Climate to Thrive, said it was one of the most urgent issues facing the town and he wanted to see the town take on regulations to restrict vacation rentals, including a cap on properties that are not lived in by their hosts, as well as make changes to the zoning to allow for more appropriate development.
BAR HARBOR—Two Town Council incumbents will look to hold their seats at the annual election on June 8.
Gary Friedmann, who has served three terms, and Joseph Minutolo, who is completing his first term, are trying to stay on the council, but will have to beat out three challengers who are familiar faces in town.
Jennifer Cough, a shop owner and a member of the Cruise Ship Committee, Nathan Young, the former police chief who previously ran in 2016 after he had been fired from his post, and Peter St. Germain, a business owner and former member of the council, are all also vying for the two seats.
One thing that all the candidates said they wanted to address was helping keep the year-round community and address the town’s housing crunch.
“(We’re) trying to make sure that we establish more community sustainability,” said Minutolo, who owns the Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop. “I think that a lot of time we do a lot of short-term solutions and things like that, but we’ve got to think of the big picture. We’re seeing our year-round population just kind of evaporate before our very eyes.”
Friedmann, a consultant and a founding member of A Climate to Thrive, said it was one of the most urgent issues facing the town and he wanted to see the town take on regulations to restrict vacation rentals, including a cap on properties that are not lived in by their hosts, as well as make changes to the zoning to allow for more appropriate development.
For St. Germain, who runs Llangolan Inn and Cottages at Hadley Point and Deer Run Realty Company, the only way to address the lack of housing is to take another look at density.
“I think the density in the zones – some of the 27 odd zones that we have – need to be revisited in a very serious way,” he said.
There would likely need to be a caveat that any increase in density would need to be done for year-round housing, he added.
If elected, Young said he would work to enhance the role of organizations like the local housing trust and would also be open to looking at density requirements.
But he, Cough and St. Germain were all against proposed restrictions on vacation rentals, such as Airbnbs, that came from the current council.
From Cough’s point of view, affordable housing and vacation rentals were two separate issues and the rental units didn’t create the lack of affordable housing; the properties that have become vacation rentals were never really all that affordable to begin with.
“Affordable housing has nothing to do with vacation rentals,” she said. “Vacation rentals grew out of the fact that housing wasn’t affordable.”
As a self-described libertarian, Cough felt that people should do what they want with their properties and was against the proposed restrictions. She reasoned that vacation rentals have grown out of necessity because of the town’s high tax base and people often rent their homes just to be able to stay in them.
In her eyes, the only way to fix affordable housing was to change the land use ordinances to make it feasible to build higher density housing.
St. Germain said the topic of vacation rentals had been “beaten to death.”
“We need to stop wasting our time arguing that and debating that into minutiae,” he said. “That has been going on forever. The horses left the barn.”
The council has put forth land ordinance changes that would further regulate rentals and the proposal will likely be decided on in November.
The candidates were also split on the future of cruise ships in town.
Friedmann wished to see a cap be placed on the number of cruise ships coming to town. Minutolo said he was “in the middle” on the issue and didn’t see the town totally divesting from the industry but wanted it to be better managed.
Young was waiting for the results of the town’s cruise ship survey to help guide him.
“I think the survey will point us in the direction as a community,” he said.
St. Germain said the town has had cruise ships for decades and he didn’t see the need to alter it. Cough was open to some slight tweaks but said that the town has been able to capitalize on money from the industry and businesses have benefited from the tourism.
Each candidate felt they brought something different to the table.
Both Cough and St. Germain said that one of the reasons they wanted to run was to help businesses and the community recover from the pandemic.
“I think having a fresh set of eyes, post pandemic, could be a very good thing for everyone concerned,” St. Germain said of his candidacy.
Cough said that she can bring a common-sense approach. She was reluctant to enter the race but felt she could aid the people who didn’t feel supported by the council and would focus on actionable items, not broad, moralistic virtue-signaling.
“That’s not the council’s job,” she said. The council’s job is to deal with things like water, sewers, cruise ships, tourism – “not to try to legislate people into being good people.”
Young said his more than two decades as the police chief in Bar Harbor gave him a thorough understanding of municipal government and would enable him to handle all the issues that come before the council.
Young was fired as chief after an investigator concluded he was intoxicated and acted inappropriately towards officers who were responding to a report of a person slumped over in a truck at the closed Town Hill Market. The former chief contested his firing and in the aftermath was later arrested multiple times for operating under the influence and probation violations.
Since then, Young said he has concentrated on rebuilding himself and didn’t want to get into a bunch of “what-ifs.”
“I fell off the rails and I hit some real down low times,” the former chief said. “I did get arrested for OUI and those are deep regrets that I have. However, I own 100 percent of that behavior and for that I can apologize for.”
His past was a consideration during his latest run for council and he felt that he had moments to be proud of during his run as the longest tenured chief in town history. Young now runs Emery’s Cottages on the Shore, which also helps give him the perspective of the business owners in town, he said.
The incumbents, as well as former council member St. Germain, said their previous experience on the board would help them achieve the town’s goals if elected.
Friedmann wanted to run for a fourth term in order to continue the work he had done on the council for the past nine years and was particularly enthusiastic about working on getting solar energy projects in different parts of town.
When Minutolo ran for his first term, he felt that the residents of Bar Harbor were losing the ability to talk to the council and he wanted to see the citizens of the town have a voice and a fair and honest dialogue on the issues.
The election is scheduled for June 8. The polling place will be at the Municipal Building Auditorium and poll hours are from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.