By Alf Anderson
Widespread agreement on any given topic is difficult to find these days. But our community largely agrees that the housing situation in Bar Harbor is the top challenge we face locally. Business owners know that a solution to the housing situation must be the first domino to fall in order to address the shortage of workers. Year-round institutions like The Jackson Laboratory and MDI Hospital face the same obstacle that seasonal hospitality operations face: an inadequate supply of housing to meet the demand of their business.
The demand for housing is not going to ease anytime soon so the starting point for all practical solutions is to find ways to increase the supply of housing units. Over the past several years, the town of Bar Harbor has addressed policy shortcomings within the municipal code and land use ordinance (LUO) that will do just that.
Employee Living Quarters and Shared Accommodations were adopted into the municipal code by Bar Harbor voters in 2020. Bonus Dwelling Units that will allow for an increased number of housing units were voted into the LUO by the town’s residents in 2021. Property owners (be they business owners or not) now have more options to increase the supply of housing than were available just two years ago.
Today, there are businesses with plans in various stages that will put these new tools to work. The Bar Harbor Chamber will soon roll out educational opportunities so even more businesses and interested residents will see how these policy changes can be used to provide solutions for their organization. The Chamber will also aim to serve as an intermediary between the town’s Planning Department and those developers, investors, contractors, etc., who might put forth projects to address the housing needs of our community.
There is no single answer to the housing crunch in Bar Harbor, but the efforts made so far are steps in the right direction, and more options may be coming soon. LD 2003, a bipartisan bill currently being considered in Augusta, would make significant changes to housing policies statewide and could have a major impact on Bar Harbor. The town is in the early stages of updating its comprehensive plan where housing is sure to be a priority. The Planning Board is holding a series of workshops to identify challenges and solutions regarding inclusionary (affordable) housing.
Of course, not all proposed changes will be seen the same way, as evidenced by the vacation rental ordinance that was passed by voters last fall and opposed by many in the business community. But it is important that we all understand that changes need to be made to address the needs of our entire community.
Bar Harbor should have housing for all types of people to maintain a diverse community. That includes a family with children in our school system, a senior citizen who wants to age in place, or an individual looking for a seasonal apartment.
Increasing the supply of diverse types of housing is our best path forward in solving the housing predicament, and I hope we can all agree on that.
Alf Anderson is the executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce.