Viewpoint: Article 4 can help Bar Harbor with housing 



By Bar Harbor Town Council members 

It has long been a challenge to find affordable, year-round housing in Bar Harbor. With the advent of vacation rentals (VR), it has become nearly impossible. According to 2020 data from Maine Housing, 71 percent of Bar Harbor residents cannot afford to buy a home at the median price. More than half cannot afford a median price rental. 

Renting out a spare room or garage apartment at one’s residence is a way to earn money to meet household expenses and does not decrease housing for year-round residents. Housing bought solely for the purpose of seasonal rental is another story. Potential year-round family residences are being purchased at rapidly escalating cost for summer rentals, leaving neighborhoods dark in the winter and affordable housing stock virtually unavailable. 

To address this, Article 4 on the Nov. 2 warrant proposes an amendment to the land use ordinance. Until these changes are passed by the voters, there are no limits on vacation rental permits issued. Currently, more than one in five housing units in Bar Harbor are vacation rentals and many more permits have been requested. 

Article 4, Land Use Ordinance Amendment – Short-Term Rentals, would do the following: 

  • Classify vacation rentals as VR-1 or VR-2.  
  • VR-1: Short-term rental unit at one’s primary residence. Maximum of two VR-1 registrations at a primary residence. Minimum rental period of two nights. No limit to number of VR-1 registrations allowed town-wide. 
  • VR-2: Short-term rental of a dwelling unit that is NOT at one’s primary residence. Minimum rental period four nights. Town-wide cap of VRs would be 9 percent of Bar Harbor housing stock. No new VR-2 registrations would be issued after Dec. 2, 2021, until registrations are below the cap. 

All existing VR permit-holders must renew a permit by May 31, 2022, to retain their registration, registering as either a VR-1 or VR-2. All existing registered VRs may continue their registrations if they are renewed annually and meet registration requirements. VR-2 registrations would not be transferable. (VR-1s are unlimited and not affected by transferability.) 

Article 4 also specifies the districts where VRs are allowed or prohibited. They are allowed where they have been allowed; they are prohibited where they have been prohibited and prohibited in six other districts where there are none currently located. 

We urge voters to SUPPORT ARTICLE 4 on the warrant as a first step in making affordable housing available to more people who would like to make Bar Harbor their year-round home. Additional information can be found at www.barharbormaine.gov/462/Vacation-Rentals. 

The Town Council supported these changes on a 6-1 vote. The Warrant Committee recommends adoption by a vote of 8-1. The Planning Board, on a tie vote (2-2), made no recommendation. 

 Erin Cough, Gary Friedmann, Jill Goldthwait, Matt Hochman, Joe Minutolo and Val Peacock are members of the Bar Harbor Town Council.