BAR HARBOR — Property owners can now legally rent out rooms in their homes by the week, after voters approved that change to the town’s Land Use Ordinance (LUO) on Tuesday.
With polling stations across Maine reporting low turnout, Bar Harbor only had 17.5 percent of its registered voters participate in Tuesday’s election. However, of the 812 voters who did cast ballots, an overwhelming majority of them approved the two LUO amendments on the ballot.
The first proposed amendment, changing the definition of “vacation rental” to include portions of a dwelling unit, passed 628 to 175.
The second proposed amendment, changing how site plans are reviewed, was approved by a vote of 689 to 109.
With the addition of three words: “a portion thereof,” Bar Harbor property owners are now allowed to rent rooms in their house as vacation rentals, or for periods of less than thirty days.
“I’m very pleased to see the results of the election, and feel supported by the community,” said resident Julia Walker-Thomas, who has spoken in favor of the change at several public hearings.
At a February public hearing, Walker-Thomas had announced to the room, “I’m one of the outlaw people who rent a room in my house, so I’m one hundred percent illegal right now.” She said at the time that she hoped the rules could change for people like her trying to live in Bar Harbor on a single income.
Following Tuesday’s election, Walker-Thomas wrote to the Islander in an email, “I believe this vote will allow more young professionals, families, and year-round retirees to afford to be a part of our great community by renting a room in their house to visitors, a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of our island.”
Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain said she expects Tuesday’s vote to result in an increase of vacation rental applications in her office. “There were property owners that applied previously, and their applications were denied because renting a portion of a dwelling was not allowed,” Chamberlain said.
The vacation rental application process involves an inspection of the unit to be rented, and an annual $250 registration fee. This will be the same regardless of whether the applicant is renting a whole dwelling unit or just a portion of the unit, Chamberlain said.
The other LUO amendment passed by voters will relax the timeline required for filing applications, notices and notifications by the Planning Board.
For example, under the new changes, the Planning Board will no longer be required to notify an applicant in writing within 10 days if their application is found incomplete.
According to Town Planner Michele Gagnon, the old 10-day requirement placed an administrative burden on the Planning Department to compile minutes from a meeting and write to applicants in a short time, when the applicants were present at the meeting and already had the information.
Other newly enacted changes are meant to help applicants meet deadlines. For example, applicants were formerly required to meet with the Planning Department “at least seven business days prior to submitting a formal application.” Under the changes, applicants still need to meet with the Planning Department, but the seven business day-requirement is stricken.
“We’re simplifying the process,” Gagnon said.
Both LUO amendments had been recommended by the Planning Board and Warrant Committee.
This article has been updated.