Ferry terminal zoning debated

BAR HARBOR — Members of the Planning Board here rolled up their sleeves last week and got to work on the language of a proposed new zoning district for the former international ferry terminal property on Eden Street.

At their Oct. 19 meeting, the board worked through language for a proposed new “shoreland maritime activities district” that would only include the ferry terminal parcel. The board plans to present it to the Town Council for discussion at a workshop meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 6 p.m.

They hope to have the land use ordinance (LUO) amendment creating the new zone ready for the June 2017 town meeting ballot.

The Maine Port Authority (MPA) has completed negotiations on a lease-purchase agreement with the current owner of the property, intending to seek an investor to develop a cruise ship terminal there. State officials have said they will not sign the agreement until the zoning change is in place.

The state technically may enjoy sovereign immunity if they own the property in the future, which would mean they would not be bound by the town’s land use ordinance (LUO). But at a special Planning Board meeting Oct. 14, state officials said they would plan to work with the town to follow its restrictions.

“I think we should proceed very cautiously as far as eliminating allowed uses,” Tom St. Germain said. “The fewer the allowed uses, the smaller the pool of potential investors in the project.”

“I understand where you’re going with this,” Joe Cough replied, “but I think also we’re the Planning Board for the town, and I’m not going to roll over and play dead. While I agree with this facility, I think it’s up to us to try and set parameters.”

John Fitzpatrick acknowledged the concerns from some residents at recent meetings about the project.

“I see this as very akin to the parking discussion,” he said. “The ordinance changes that we were looking at and contemplating were sullied by a specific project. The ordinance is the town’s vehicle to enable something to happen. Whether it happens or not, and whether the town allows 15,000 cruise ship passengers a day or 5,000, that’s dealt with at the council level. Socioeconomic issues are dealt with there.

“These are land use ordinance amendments, and they either enable or retard certain levels of development in the community’s best interest,” he continued. “They don’t address everything, and they shouldn’t. That’s not our purview.”

Planning Director Bob Osborne based the draft amendment on a mechanism in state zoning guidelines that allows for the creation of a special district like this one without the move being considered “spot zoning.” The guidelines have a provision for a “commercial fisheries maritime activities district.”

The Planning Board debated allowed land uses for the new district. Their current draft includes “bank; commercial boat yard; commercial fish pier; passenger terminal; ferry terminal; farmers’ market; hotel; marina; multifamily dwelling; professional office building; restaurant; retail; road construction; services; take-out restaurant and wireless communication facilities” as uses permitted by site plan review.

The board removed child care centers, wind turbines, private schools, nursing homes from the list. They said that any housing units at the facility should be for employees.


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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