Town Council looks to end supermajority vote



BAR HARBOR — “How do you all feel about stripping ourselves of some power that has been given to the Planning Board since the enactment of this land use ordinance?” This is what Planning Board Chairman Tom St.Germain asked the rest of the board as he opened a discussion last week about a Town Council-led initiative seeking to eliminate a supermajority vote for some land use questions.  

Under consideration is a request from the Town Council to hold a public hearing for a proposed land use ordinance (LUO) amendment that would eliminate from the town code the need for a two-thirds majority vote.  

According to the town code under its land use provisions, “If the Planning Board recommends a proposed amendment, such amendment may be adopted by a majority vote at a duly constituted Town Meeting. If the Planning Board does not recommend a proposed amendment, such amendment may be adopted only by a two-thirds majority vote at a duly constituted Town Meeting.” The town code does not explain what should happen if the board fails to render an opinion on whether an amendment should be adopted or not.  

The issue of a two-thirds supermajority vote came under scrutiny during the last town meeting cycle. That’s when the Planning Board’s vote to recommend questions that sought to end the transferability of vacation rental licenses and cap the overall number of vacation rentals in town ended in a tie 2-2 vote (with one member unable to participate). The tie vote was interpreted by the town’s attorney to mean that a majority vote was needed from voters to pass the measure.  

While the measure ultimately passed with 60 percent of the vote, it widened a rift between the two boards over the management of vacation rental licenses.  

Planning Board member Millard Dority wanted to know the origin of the two-thirds vote, but also questioned why this was now being raised. “There seems to be more contention between the council and Planning Board and there is a perception in the community of discord between the two. Is this the solution or is there another way to deal with it?” he asked. “It seems to have worked so well for so long. Why is it broken now?” 

“I support this change,” said board member Ruth Eveland. “I don’t view this as stripping the Planning Board of any unusual power. I think it is an anomaly in terms of how the town makes its decisions. In the interest of consistency, I think the Planning Board has plenty of opportunities to make its perspective known and I think asking the Planning Board to have an unusual weight in this decision is not consistent with good governance.” 

The Bar Harbor two-thirds provision appears to have been adopted in 1975, predating the adoption of the LUO rewrite of 1986, but why it was adopted in the first place remains unknown. Despite being asked during the Planning Board’s meeting, no town officials could give any history as to why the measure was first adopted. Since it has been on the books, it has never been amended. 

Board members decided to schedule a public hearing on the matter for Jan. 5.  

 

Faith DeAmbrose

Faith DeAmbrose

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Faith DeAmbrose

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