Zoning proposals tweaked at hearing

BAR HARBOR — Parking, housing and the use of the former international ferry terminal all were on the agenda last Wednesday for Planning Board hearings of proposed amendments to the town’s land use ordinance (LUO).

Hearings were held on all 12 draft warrant articles for the June 2017 town meeting in the marathon five-hour session. The board adopted, with some changes, all but the last two for the town meeting warrant. The board tabled action on those two until their Jan. 4 meeting.

“The intent of the draft parking amendments is to respond to the Town Council request for the Planning Board to develop a set of recommendations concerning the LUO regulation of parking,” Planning Director Bob Osborne wrote in a memo to the board.

Amendments adding “parking lot” and “parking garage” to downtown districts, which officials say used to be allowed but were inadvertently omitted when the districts were redrawn in 2010, have been prepared and withdrawn twice in the last year.

In December 2015, the Town Council rejected several specific amendments on parking lots and garages and instead directed the Planning Board to prepare a single, comprehensive parking amendment.

The board prepared those recommendations for a November 2016 vote. They were debated by the council and Warrant Committee before being scrapped in September when town staff found errors in the language of the articles.

The first of the current slate of amendments adds “parking lot” as a principal use in several districts, meaning the town or a private developer could create a parking lot as a business, subject to site plan review. Lots are already allowed as accessory structures to other types of land uses.

“There have been repeated requests to repeal the 2010 decision of the voters not to require some types of businesses to provide off-street parking,” said Planning Board Chair Tom St. Germain. “This allows landowners, should they choose to, to provide more parking.”

Some residents at the hearing expressed concern that iconic buildings could be torn down and turned into parking lots. Osborne said many downtown buildings are too small for that to be possible.

“Functionally, it’s not possible to tear down a, say, 30-foot-wide building and establish a parking lot on that lot. The dimensions you would need exceed the space of smaller urban buildings.”

Another amendment, A2, aims to add parking as an allowed accessory use in some districts where it is not expressly listed in the current ordinance.

The board made changes to article A2 following public hearing comment from resident and attorney Arthur Greif. He suggested “off-street parking” was undefined and could be too broadly interpreted, so the board changed the accessory use wording to “allowed off-street parking.”

Greif also recommended against the use of new language in the amendment about “legally constituted” uses, referring to grandfathered nonconforming buildings. The board and the town attorney agreed to strike that language and leave the current ordinance language of “permitted.”

The board made those same changes to article A4, which allows a business or institution to fulfill parking requirements in a site plan by building parking in a nearby off-site lot.

Article A3 adds “parking deck,” which would be entirely new to the ordinance, in several districts. A parking deck is a two-level structure that makes use of site grade differential, rather than internal ramps, to access the parking areas.

Six separate warrant articles, A5.1-A5.6, each add “parking garage” as an allowed use in a single district. Three are downtown districts, and three are associated with institutions: The Jackson Laboratory, College of the Atlantic and the MDI Biological Laboratory.

Most of the public comments on the garage questions related to concerns about the look and character of the downtown village.

“Parking garages are part of a city,” resident Dennis Bracale said. “People come here for nature, not to fight traffic.”

The board agreed to amend the articles to require design review for all parking garage projects, including ones outside the design review overlay district.

Greif and others mentioned the town’s 2007 comprehensive plan, which they said emphasizes reducing vehicle traffic, rather than increasing parking.

When the plan was created and adopted, board member Joe Cough said, parking garages were allowed in the downtown. “In my estimation, the plan doesn’t say we need to take them out. Garages were absolutely part of the plan that the town had.”

Garages are currently allowed in the LUO in the Town Hill Business and Village Residential neighborhoods, St. Germain said, and the proposed amendments do not change that.

A planned parking garage at Jackson Laboratory cannot be built unless the amendment for that district is approved, town officials have said.

The board heard comment but tabled action on two final articles, one creating a new Shoreland Maritime Activities District for the site of the former international ferry terminal on Eden Street and one adjusting rules for “minimum lot area per family” to encourage housing development.

Bracale said there should be more of a plan for how the facility will be used before the town decides on zoning for it.

Other residents asked about public access to the shore at the site. “Zoning language doesn’t do anything to preserve public access,” Osborne said. “That would be secured through a future easement.”

Comments were supportive of the “minimum lot area per family” change but said new housing units should not be used for summer short-term rentals.

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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