Vacation rental proposal goes to hearing next month 

BAR HARBOR — The Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing for vacation rental regulations that were proposed by the Town Council.  

The board voted last week to hold a July 7 hearing on the proposal, which has been one of the hottest issues in town.  

The new regulations would put vacation rentals, such as Airbnbs, into two categories: VR-1 and VR-2.  

VR-1 would be rentals that are the owner’s primary residencea VR-2 would be rental properties that are not.  

VR-1s would have a two-night stay minimum and VR-2s would have a minimum rental period of four nights. An owner would not be allowed to have more than two VR-1s in their primary residence. 

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

Under the new proposal, the total number of VR-2s in town would be capped at 9 percent of the total number of dwelling units in town, and the transfer of any vacation rental registration would be prohibited.  

Anyone who owns an existing vacation rental would be able to continue operating as long as the registration was renewed annually.  

VR-1s would be allowed in all 34 districts they are currently allowed in, and new VR-2s would be limited to districts zoned for commercial and lodging. 

The Planning Board, which has not seen eye to eye with the council on all pieces of the proposal, ended up unanimously voting to set the public hearing, but not before a question of procedure was raised.  

Board member Joe Cough questioned if the Town Council had formally requested the Planning Board to take up a public hearing on the potential land use ordinance amendments. He also questioned if his board had the authority to call a public hearing because there were changes made from a previous ask by the council. 

The board eventually decided it could call it, with several members saying it was time to get the idea into a public hearing so residents could have their say.  

“I think everybody’s ready for this,” board member Erica Brooks said. 

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 public hearing starts a process that will likely result in the proposal going before voters in November.  

If the Planning Board comes out against the draft regulations, they would need a two-thirds majority vote to pass at Town Meeting. 

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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