Town Council is against transfer of vacation rentals  

BAR HARBOR—The Town Council signaled Tuesday that it doesn’t want to allow vacation rentals to be transferable and plans to try and memorialize it through the land use ordinance process, giving the voters a chance to weigh in on the issue at a future town meeting.  

The council held a work session on potential short-term rental regulations and took straw polls on several different pieces of a potential draft ordinance in order to manage properties such as Airbnbs in town. 

There are currently 518 registered vacation rentals out of the 2,795 residential units in Bar Harbor. Out of those 518 rentals, 167 are connected with primary residences in town and 351 are non-primary residences.  

Like many resort areas, town officials have been trying to craft rules around vacation rentals to preserve the community and prevent it from becoming awash in weekly rentals.  

The overall goal is to make it so people aren’t kicked out of rental housing to make room for short-term rental properties, said council member Matthew Hochman. 

“We’re trying to keep Bar Harbor a community, not a commodity,” he said. 

The council was giving town staff its preferences on draft language for the regulations, and whether a vacation rental could be transferred to another party has been a hot topic.

The draft regulations would also place a cap on the number of short-term rentals. 

The council previously debated breaking up the proposed amendments into two pieces, untethering the fate of a cap and transferability away from each other.  

But on Tuesday, the council decided it wanted them packaged together in a single amendment order, as well as have it go before the voters as a land use ordinance instead of in a different chapter that the council could have done without town meeting approval.  

In going down the land use ordinance route, the regulations need additional layers of approval, but it would also be harder for a future Town Council to undo.  

The decisions made Tuesday will now move things over to the Planning Board next month and kick off a six-month review process, with the proposed amendment expected to make it onto the November ballot. 

The council’s work session came with the new information from a town-wide survey on short-term rentals. The survey was filled out by 459 people, who were nearly evenly split on the issue of transferability in the downtown area.  

If the Planning Board comes out against the draft regulations, they would need a two-thirds majority at town meeting in order to pass.  

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

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