Emera Maine announced Tuesday they want to relocate a proposed electrical substation into a building at the site of a former funeral home on Prospect Avenue in Bar Harbor. FILE PHOTO

Zoning vote may short circuit plan

BAR HARBOR — A citizen’s amendment to govern the placement and permitting of electrical substations could derail Emera Maine’s intention to build a new substation at a location other than Woodbury Road.

Emera officials said Tuesday that after a year of meeting with a citizens’ advisory group here, they had chosen a new site for their proposed substation, at the corner of Prospect Avenue and Eden Street. The facility would be disguised as a house.

However, a citizens’ zoning amendment governing the placement of public utility facilities would disallow the use in the Village Residential zoning district where Prospect Avenue is located. That amendment is on the ballot for town meeting on Tuesday, June 9.

The amendment also would disallow any public utility facility governed by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in many districts, thus making the town’s sewer treatment plant, as well as phone company and cable TV facilities nonconforming uses, according to opponents.

Emera representative Steve Sloan said Tuesday during a public hearing on the amendment that his company is working on their permit application for the Prospect Avenue site and plans to have it in to the planning office here before the June 9 vote on the amendment in order to stay within current zoning rules. However, he said, the amendment presents a challenge to Emera’s plans.

“Although there are varying legal opinions of this, the change does … present a risk to the development of the preferred station site as selected by Emera Maine and the advisory committee following a year of work,” Sloan said.

“If the town can step back, take a long-term, thoughtful and flexible approach, many positive outcomes can emerge.

“Protections certainly need to be in place, but engagement and thoughtful planning, rather than restriction, leads to much better solutions and decisions to meet the community needs.”

Emera has a valid building permit for Woodbury Road but agreed to explore other locations.

Proponents of the amendment present at Tuesday night’s meeting included many of the people who have protested for months over proposed plans to rewrite the land use ordinance and many who were involved in the successful 2010 lawsuit against the town over unapproved changes to Appendix C of the ordinance.

Dessa Dancy said that Emera has done a great job working with the town, but other companies might not. The amendment is necessary to protect residents against companies with less presence of mind, she said.

“This is about every residential district in the whole town,” she said. “The LUO rewrite would put [power stations] nearly everywhere in town, with only a site plan review at the most. Think about it, it’s a serious problem for historic neighborhoods and family neighborhoods.”

Contrasting the proposed LUO rewrite, Article 4, the citizens’ amendment, would allow public utility facilities in just several areas of town: the Bar Harbor gateway zone along much of Eden Street, the downtown village zones and in the industrial zone that comprises MacQuinn’s gravel pit on Crooked Road. Within these zones, the use would be reviewed under conditional use permitting, which basically allows projects only if neighbors agree to them and if applicants agree to landscaping, buffering, sound protection or other modifications necessary to meet whatever aesthetic concerns the neighbors raise.

Eben Salvatore said that conditional use is a restrictive process that would put off applicants from even trying for a permit.

“No power company would come in and try to get a permit under this language. I think that was the intent,” he said. “This would be a problem for all of Bar Harbor, not just one neighborhood if it passes.”

Salvatore further said that because the language would outlaw PUC-regulated uses in most districts, it would make the town’s sewer treatment plant a disallowed use and would also negate the possibilities for building solar energy installations everywhere except the few areas where the amendment would allow public utility facilities.

Councilor David Bowden said that this consequence, perhaps unintended, was reason enough to vote against the amendment.

“It doesn’t allow … to put in a water system someplace else, or … to enlarge the system we have,” Bowden said. “I understand what you’re doing, and you’re focusing on substations. But there’s other things that have recourses in this ordinance that I don’t think were taken into consideration.”

Because the planning board voted 4-0 to recommend rejection of the amendment, it must be approved by a two-thirds majority to pass. Amendment backer attorney Arthur Greif, who successfully sued the town to have the amendment put on the June ballot instead of waiting until November, also has initiated action in court seeking to have the two-thirds majority requirement nullified.

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]
Robert Levin

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