Vacation rental workshop held; Planning Board debates bylaws 

BAR HARBOR — The policy discussion about vacation rentals here was set to resume this week with a joint workshop between the Town Council and Planning Board Wednesday. 

The council opted last month not to move forward with sending proposed regulations to voters at elections in November. Members said at the time they wanted to get to work right away on making adjustments and preparing a new proposal to go to voters in June 2020. 

The review of the proposed rules included work by a Zoning Advisory Group, public information sessions, a split Planning Board vote in July and significant changes made by the council in July before the council’s decision in August to table the plan. 

That process raised questions for some Planning Board members about the separation of powers in the town’s system of government, especially since the board has also been reviewing changes to its bylaws. 

Under the town charter, Planning Board Chairman Tom St. Germain said at the board’s meeting last week, there are two primary limits on the council’s power. One is that many administrative decisions are delegated to the town manager. The other is that the Planning Board makes land use decisions, subject to the land use ordinance and comprehensive plan. 

“If the council sends something to us, we are charged with looking at it,” board member Joe Cough said. But land use decisions should not necessarily be bound by Town Council goals, which can change often, he said. 

The board’s activities are governed by the land use ordinance, but also by two other documents: the Planning Board section of the town’s Boards, Committees and Commissions ordinance, which is Chapter 31 in the municipal code, and by its Rules of Procedure (or bylaws). Both of these can only be changed by the Town Council. 

Over the years, Planning Director Michele Gagnon said, the board has made changes without going through the formal process to request Town Council approval. That was “simply an oversight,” she said. Board member Basil Eleftheriou asked if it’s typical in other towns for a Planning Board not to have the authority to amend its own bylaws. 

The working drafts of changes to Chapter 31 and the Rules of Procedure seek to bring the ordinance into line with current practice, including meeting schedules, possible addition of alternate member seats, attendance requirements and rules for submittal of projects for Planning Board review. 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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