Cornell Knight, Bar Harbor town manager. Knight and Town Council Chair Paul Paradis will negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the Maine DOT for the acquisition of the international ferry terminal currently owned by Marine Atlantic. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Zoning advances for ferry terminal

BAR HARBOR — The Planning Board voted last week to recommend creation of a new district in the town’s land use ordinance (LUO) for a single property, the former international ferry terminal site on Eden Street.

The vote follows a Dec. 21 public hearing on the draft warrant article. The recommended change heads next to the Town Council for a vote on whether it should be placed on the ballot for June town elections.

Public comment was taken at that December meeting on all 12 draft warrant articles proposed for a June vote, but the board decided to postpone action on two of them until their Jan. 4 meeting.

Town Manager Cornell Knight updated the board on the current plan for the site. The Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) currently leases the property from Canadian crown corporation Marine Atlantic. Knight and Town Council Chair Paul Paradis are set to negotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the state Department of Transportation (DOT), laying out a plan for the town to acquire the property for development as a cruise ship terminal.

The negotiations have not begun yet, Knight said, but the MOU should be complete in a few months. It will come before the Town Council for review and adoption. Consultants Louis Ajamil of Bermello, Ajamil and Associates (B&A) will help advise Knight and Paradis in the negotiations and in development of a business plan. That work will be paid for using the balance of an existing contract with B&A, paid by the town, the chamber of commerce and the Maine Port Authority.

“[The] DOT is looking at summer of 2018 to have the transfer take place,” he said. “They’ll want to see benchmarks that [show] we are working towards that goal so when the transfer takes place, there is a plan in place to have the facility developed into a cruise/ferry terminal.”

Exactly what those benchmarks will be is not yet spelled out, he said, but adoption of this zoning change likely will be one of them.

Board members asked Knight if he or the consultants have any concerns about the draft article for the new zone as they prepare to begin negotiations.

“No, I think it gives a lot of flexibility on the site,” he said, “and I didn’t hear any concerns from Louis.”

One of the issues in the public hearing in December was whether parking should be allowed as a principal use of the site rather than an accessory use, given its potential value as a satellite parking location. The board decided not to make that change.

“That would be an easy fix down the road,” if necessary, said board member Basil Eleftheriou.

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.”

Uses allowed in the new district with a building permit or change of use permit are “government facility and grounds, and temporary pier, dock, wharf, breakwater or other use projecting into the water.”

Uses allowed by site plan review include commercial boatyard, commercial fish pier, passenger terminal, ferry terminal, marina and services.

Bank, farmers market, hotel, multifamily dwelling, professional office buildings, restaurant, retail, take-out restaurant and wireless communications facility are allowed as accessory uses.

The board removed childcare centers, wind turbines, private schools and nursing homes from the list at previous meetings. They also said that any housing units at the facility should be for employees.

The board also discussed an LUO amendment intended to help make it possible for property owners to build more housing units and recommended it be placed on the June ballot. The amendment adjusts the minimum lot area per family in downtown districts.

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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