Town struggles to enforce rules

BAR HARBOR — Summer is a busy time in Bar Harbor, and it’s also a busy time for Angie Chamberlain, the town’s Code Enforcement Officer.

“I spend a lot of time in the summer addressing sign violations, vacation rental violations, and complaints,” she said.

This summer, Chamberlain sent out seven Notices of Violation to landowners whose properties had violations of the town’s Land Use Ordinance.

Two of the notices were for “transient” or short-term rentals in properties not permitted for that use. One notice was for a family with two unpermitted apartments in their garage. The other four notices were sent to businesses for displaying unapproved signs.

Two of the notices went to repeat offenders. David LaValle and Cara Romano of Bar Harbor received their second Notice of Violation for transient rentals at their Norway Drive property. Also, the owners of the Black Friar Inn were cited for displaying a portable sign and installing a sliding glass door without a permit, which was an unresolved issue from the previous owner of the inn.

At a Sept. 4 town council meeting, Chamberlain requested that the town council allow additional enforcement action to be taken against the Black Friar Inn, who at that time continued to display chalkboard signs on the sidewalk after receiving the official notice. Deborah Vickers, one of the new owners, avoided additional enforcement action by saying she would take down the signs immediately.

Other repeat violators, Rob and Kate Jordan, did not attend the Sept. 4 meeting, and the town council decided to take additional action on their transient rental violations at their Ledgelawn property. The Jordans had received Notices of Violation in 2015 and 2017, but not in 2018. The town attorney is currently preparing to take legal action to levy fines.

The town council discussed the issue Tuesday at the request of Councilor Matthew Hochman. He had asked Chamberlain about the possibility of levying fines for past ongoing violations.

“What we did with the Black Friar does not seem to provide any incentive to not just violate again next year,” he wrote to Chamberlain in an email.

“The goal of our land use ordinance is not to levy fines, not to collect fees, but to encourage people to be in compliance,” Hochman said at the meeting. “I feel that if people think that there’s actually going to be a penalty for being out of compliance, [then they] will stay in compliance.”

Hochman also asked about a consent agreement between the town and the then-owners of the Criterion Theatre in 2010, citing it as an example of the town imposing fines.

“Consent agreements have been used as a means of resolving violations when the when the corrective action necessary would be extremely expensive or require some extraordinary steps to resolve,” town Planning Director Janna Richards wrote in a memo. “Consent agreements have also been useful when the violator doesn’t dispute that a violation has occurred and wants to avoid court action, but is looking for a way to resolve the issue at the local level.”

“Can a municipality levy fines, or does it have to go through the court system?” Hochman asked Bearor at the meeting.

“No,” Bearor said. “If they violate your land use ordinance, you have to take them to court if you want to have a fine imposed.”

Chamberlain’s advice to avoid any adverse action from violations is to “always check first before you do something.” She said town staff is “happy to answer questions and give people the correct information before they do something that isn’t legal.”

Becky Pritchard
Former Islander reporter Becky Pritchard covered the town of Bar Harbor and was a park ranger in Acadia for six seasons.
Becky Pritchard

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