BAR HARBOR — Property owners who rent to visitors by the night or week voiced concerns about the Planning Department’s new proposed regulatory framework for vacation rentals at a public information session held via Zoom webinar last week.
The new regulatory framework would create two classes of vacation rentals in the town and a town-wide cap on one class — whole-house rentals where the property is owned by a non-Bar Harbor resident, or a Bar Harbor resident who does not use the property in question as their primary residence (VR-2).
Anyone with a current vacation rental license (the department is using “registration” and “license” interchangeably, Planning Director Michele Gagnon said) would be able to keep it.
But no new licenses would be issued in excess of the cap of 175 in an effort to gradually reduce the number of this class of rental in town. This process is similar to the state’s system for awarding lobster licenses — in some zones, three or five licenses must be retired for one new one to be issued.
Rebecca Richardson, who manages rentals for dozens of property owners, said other “resort” communities have a much higher percentage of the housing stock dedicated to this use, and that’s “as it should be.”
One of the goals of the town’s plan is to slow the conversion of year-round housing to vacation rentals, but Richardson said summer cottage rentals have long been a part of the town’s business mix. “To say Bar Harbor used to be a place where families and kids were playing in the streets is just not true,” she said.
A VR-2 license may be transferred if the property is sold, but it would expire within five years of the adoption of the ordinance.
The plan would “immediately decrease the value of my property and I find that unacceptable,” homeowner Norman Beamer said. In terms of access to year-round, affordable housing, he said, vacation rentals aren’t any different from second homes that are only used by the owners.
Like the plans to allow dorms for seasonal employees that are also making their way through town review processes, these changes include both land use ordinance amendments and amendments to the vacation rental ordinance, Chapter 190 in the municipal code.
The former will go to voters in a town election, perhaps in November of thisyear. The changes to the other ordinance can be made by the Town Council, following a public hearing. If the council approves the Chapter 190 changes, Gagnon said, that approval would be contingent on voter approval of the LUO change. Also, the Chapter 190 portion would need to be “solid” before the zoning change is reviewed by the Warrant Committee, she said.