Vacation rental rules booked for November warrant 

BAR HARBOR — Town Council voted Tuesday night to place proposed changes to vacation rental rules on the November special town meeting warrant, but not before getting an earful from some residents and rental property owners.  

The potential amendments are designed to slow the conversion of year-round housing to shorter-term rentals, such as Airbnbs.  

The amendments would split vacation rentals into two categories, known as VR-1 and VR-2. The former would be rentals that are the owner’s primary residence and the latter would be properties that aren’t. VR-1s would have a two-night stay minimum and VR-2s would have a minimum rental period of four nights.  

There currently is no distinction between the two and all rentals require a four-night minimum.  

Anyone who owns an existing vacation rental would be able to continue to operate it as such if they continued to renew the registration annually but, under the new rule, VR-2s 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.  

That would mean, if the town is over the 9 percent cap, any VR-2 property that changed hands would no longer be able to get a registration until the town dips back under the cap.  

That potential has been a sticking point for many people, especially those who said they own rental properties and want to pass it down to their family or sell it with the added business potential of a vacation rental property.  

Suzanne Foster said she recently moved to town and bought a property in Hulls Cove and was unsure if she’d ever rent it. But she wanted that option to remain open. 

“My concern is, we have a 17-year-old son who will one day inherit this property,” she said. “He might want to keep it, he might want to sell it, but part of our investment and our involvement in the community was with the idea that we would be able to, at some point, maybe sell this property for a similar value that we invested in it.” 

Other opponents of the amendments argued that it won’t actually help get more housing in town.  

Nina St. Germain, who has two vacation rentals, said that rentals were previously encouraged in town. She felt the potential changes were too aggressive and were causing division in the community.  

“Much of the article is fantastic, but the issue of transferability is too extreme,” she said.   

Despite the concerns, the council felt the measure was a good compromise and would help stave off future conversion of housing stock into short-term rentals.  

“We’ve seen our year-round housing stock evaporate before our eyes,” said council member Joseph Minutolo. “We have to do something.” 

With the proposal on the warrant, the question now will be how much approval it will need to pass at town meeting. If the Planning Board, which recently had a shakeup in its makeup after new appointments by the council, comes out against the council’s proposed changes to the land use ordinance, the article will need a two-thirds majority to pass at town meeting.  

The council also placed several other land use ordinance amendments on the warrant, including those for photovoltaic systems and bonus dwelling units. 

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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