By Basil Eleftheriou Jr.
When we vote on June 13, the results will determine whether Bar Harbor will be able to purchase the former ferry terminal property at 121 Eden St. from the Maine Department of Transportation. We have arrived at a decisive point in our modern history, and if Article 13 passes, the MDOT will sell the property on the open market, Bar Harbor will lose its exclusive option to buy it, and we will have a land-use mess on our hands. Voting “yes” on 13 will not solve any of our problems.
The MDOT and the Maine Port Authority (MPA) have consistently told us that they require regulatory certainty and the ability to build a berthing pier at that property in order for this transaction to happen. Originally, the MPA (which is a division of the MDOT) had intended to own the property. Shortly after a public hearing of the Planning Board in October of 2016, they decided that regulatory certainty was unlikely. Events since then have demonstrated that they are correct on this subject.
As a result of this uncertainty, the MDOT offered the town an exclusive option to purchase the property from them at a subsidized, below-market price. In offering us this option, the state demonstrates their continued wish for us to have a thriving cruise ship industry, and at the same time, they illustrate their unwillingness to try to work within the current political climate in Bar Harbor. Their decision is well-grounded.
As a community, we have lost 10 years of problem-solving due to a toxic environment at the intersections between the Town Council, the Planning Board, the Warrant Committee, and the direct involvement of a select group of citizens who have decided to derail virtually every attempt by the organized government agencies whose pursuit is to address our issues. During these last 10 years, the issues facing our town seem to have escalated. Local problems like housing, parking, our relationship to the national park and the economic effects of global trends outweigh the cruise ship issue in our opinions. Despite direct involvement in attempting to craft solutions to these issues, we find ourselves frustrated at the inability of our community to overcome the efforts of a small but vocal group who have reliably opposed virtually every effort to craft solutions based on our comprehensive plan and land use ordinance.
Their actions are predictable and are on display in front of us in real time. Recently, they brought in a cruise ship “expert” named Ross Klein, whose talk at the Municipal Building on May 17 encapsulated all that is wrong with our current discourse. He did not base his assumptions on facts. He was grossly inaccurate in his characterization of our political process. He attributed nefarious motives to the entirety of our Town Council and Planning Board.
Tom St. Germain, chair of the Planning Board, has read Klein’s material extensively over the last year or so. I have spoken at length to town councilors, out-of-state port authority directors, planning departments and engaged citizens in our town. The talk by Klein was a shameful attempt to infer that the mistakes made by others are being made by us in real time.
Germain’s research has yielded the opposite conclusion. The board believes that we are in good hands with our lead negotiators, consultants and forward-looking planning decisions.
At the request of the Town Council, and after meeting with officials from the MDOT and the MPA, our Planning Board crafted Article 12 in conjunction with Chapter 1000 of Maine’s Maritime Zoning laws. We unanimously voted for this option as part of what promised to be a long process that would include Bar Harbor acquiring the property at 121 Eden St.
Please understand that a vote for Article 12 is not a vote for a cruise ship terminal to be built. Article 12 provides a proper land-use framework for the continued debate of cruise ships visiting our town. This article creates a Maritime District that supports maritime activities yet keeps many activities such as hotels, restaurants, office buildings, retail and multi-family dwellings as accessory and subordinate to the principal maritime use.
The Planning Board urges the Voters to support Article 12.
If Article 13 passes, the debate will be altered and will almost certainly exclude 121 Eden Street as a part of it.
For a variety of reasons, Article 13 is a bad idea. It mixes roles of the Town Council into land use. It creates spot zoning. It contains other mistakes that are costly if not fatal to its supposed intent. It creates no incentive for cruise ships to bring their passengers there. It virtually guarantees a hotel development at that site. Town Attorney Ed Bearor has written an extensive opinion on the legal problems in Article 13, and he writes in support of Article 12.
The Planning Board voted unanimously against Article 13 and unanimously in support of Article 12. We urge everyone to do the same on June 13.
Basil Eleftheriou Jr. is a member of Bar Harbor’s Planning Board.