BAR HARBOR — The Planning Office will hold three public listening sessions on vacation rentals later this month, from Jan. 28-30.
The purpose of the sessions is to hear public input before the town begins “to review and revise its rules for vacation rentals,” according to an informational flyer prepared by Assistant Planner Steve Fuller.
The focus is “balancing year-round housing with vacation rentals,” said Fuller in an interview with the Islander. “There are a lot of folks with different views on that.”
According to Fuller, town planners are holding the three listening sessions in different locations “to make it easier for people to attend.”
The session on Tuesday, Jan. 28, will be at MDI Biological Laboratory’s Dahlgren Hall. The Wednesday, Jan. 29, session will be held in Council Chambers in the Municipal Building, and the Jan. 30 session will be at the Town Hill Village Improvement Society’s Community Hall. All listening sessions start at 6:30 p.m., and refreshments will be provided.
Sessions will begin with a brief presentation by staff, followed by an opportunity for public comment. Fuller noted that staff will be there mainly to listen at this point, not answer questions. “We may not have a lot of answers for [the public] that night, but that’s because we want to hear from them,” he said.
In addition to holding listening sessions, town planners are trying other methods to ensure as much public participation as possible. Fuller said notices will be sent out by direct mail.
“The intent is to go to every postal customer in town,” said Fuller, whether they rent or own property. “We want to make sure we’re reaching as many people as possible.”
A 2018 housing study commissioned by the Island Housing Trust recommended towns limit vacation rentals, among other suggested changes, to increase the availability of year-round housing on Mount Desert Island. But some Bar Harbor residents have stated in public hearings that renting their properties to short-term visitors is what allows them to afford to live on the island.
One of the five-year goals adopted by the Town Council this year is to “increase the year-round livability” of the town, specifically through ordinances that encourage residential development “and stem the conversion of year-round housing to vacation rentals,” among other listed strategies.