In January 2020, resident Amber Wolf describes the challenges faced by college students and year-round renters in Bar Harbor trying to find a place to live at a listening session hosted by the town Planning and Code Department. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Rental owners voice displeasure over proposed regs, advocates say they are needed 

BAR HARBOR — Rental owners and residents sounded off on proposed regulations on vacation rentals in a public hearing last week. Opponents argued that the regulations hindered property owner’s rights, hurt their investments and were downright unfair, while proponents said the rules are greatly needed to slow down the conversion of housing units to Airbnbs and sustain the year-round community.  

The new regulations would put vacation rentals into two categories: VR-1 and VR-2. VR-1s would be rentals that are the owner’s primary residence, while VR-2 would be properties that are not.  

VR-1s would have a two-night stay minimum and VR-2s would have a four-night minimum.  

There currently is no distinction between the two types of rentals and all currently require a four-night stay.  

The new proposal would also place a cap on the total number of VR-2s in town at nine percent of the total number of dwelling units in town. Most controversially, the proposed regulations would also prohibit the transfer of any vacation rental registrations, allowing the town to get closer to the current cap.  

Any existing rentals would be allowed to continue operating.  

More than 30 members of the public packed into town hall for the Planning Board’s public hearing on the regulations, which were proposed by the Town Council. Several Planning Board members had previously come out against the transferability piece of the council’s proposed land use ordinance. 

Ben Baxter, who owns rental properties in town, said he always intended to pass them on to his family and wanted to see some consideration for a transfer if the property was a gifted or inheritance. 

“We have property we built up over years, which we can only own and continue to own in the family if we can continue to rent,” he said.  

Jim Secor, who owns a rental property on Roberts Avenue, also wanted the transferability looked at again.  

“The rental unit is our retirement program,” he said. “By not allowing the property to be used by a future owner to be rented, you have taken 20 to 25 percent of the property’s value away.”  

The homes themselves can still be passed down to children or gifted; it’s the rental registration that cannot. The new owners can apply for a registration, though many feared they’d never be able to get one again with the newly installed cap.  

But some people had little sympathy for rental investments not panning out while other people in town can’t find a place to live and are being forced to move off-island.  

“We have families trying to find a home, children who want to go into the school system here,” said Diane Vreeland. “They just want to find a home and you’re worried about your 401K.”  

One growing issue is offseason rentals that ran from September to June are disappearing, said Jennifer Crandall, a local teacher. She’s seen numerous students move to places such as Otis or Hamden to move in with a family member so they could finish out the school year.  

“I have no stake in the short-term rental (issue), but in terms of the impact on the community, I just see that as a real shame,” she said. “Our schools are so great and so strong, and the numbers are going to keep dropping and dropping if people can’t live here.” 

Ellen Dohmen, who was chairman of the board last time the rental issue came up, had problems with VR-1s. She felt the regulations didn’t have enough detail on how many people could be on a registration and how many cars they could bring.   

“Where are they going to park?” she asked. “When we define hotels and bed and breakfasts and all that, part of our ordinance requires that they provide for parking.”  

She also had concerns about septic and what having these extra people in town could do.  

“I just think that there are too many unforeseen consequences,” Dohmen said.  

The Town Council will also hold a hearing on the potential amendments that will go before voters in November. While the Planning Board didn’t really weigh in on the proposed ordinance, it will have the opportunity to later. If the board comes out against them, they will need a two-thirds majority vote to be enacted.  

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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