Letter to Editor: Concerned neighbors

To the Editor:

It was a sad day for long-term affordable housing on the island when Ocean Properties’ subsidiary, BHAPTS, LLC, bought Acadia Apartments at 25 West Street Extension and evicted every one of the lower-income housing tenants who were living there. In their place, Ocean Properties moved in non-resident seasonal workers, and the buildings now sit mostly vacant six months out of the year.

The Islander’s coverage of BHAPTS, LLC’s attempt to double the number of buildings (not just adding two small apartments) at Acadia Apartments to increase its non-resident employee housing mistakenly celebrated this as a victory for affordable housing.

It is not. Rather than housing these workers on the hotel or restaurant premises where they work, BHAPTS, LLC and Ocean Properties want to foist the late-night parties, noise problems and occasional disorderly conduct arrests on a quiet year-round family neighborhood.

When asked by a neighbor to provide nighttime private security services to keep an eye on a young seasonal-only workforce, the manager for both businesses said that this would not happen. Most assuredly, if these workers were housed on the premises where they worked, Ocean Properties would be active managers of these workers’ after-hour parties, instead of expecting quiet family neighborhoods to just put up with it. Right now, it’s the neighbors who are working for free to address this seasonal group housing disorder, not Ocean Properties.

More than a dozen neighbors have, over the last few months, complained to the Planning Department and Planning Board, in person or by letter, that this commercial non-resident housing project was inappropriate and/or not permitted in a legally-zoned residential neighborhood.

At its Dec. 5 meeting, I offered a detailed explanation to the Planning Board of how the “residential subdivision developments” for which PUD-V permitting is designed, did not, as a matter of law, include housing for non-residents. These temporary workers are randomly assigned rooms and will be in Bar Harbor for less than six months. Most are non-residents. Yet your reporter summarized my presentation by suggesting my only concerns were for greater pedestrian access and more affordable housing!

Betsy Mills, whose treasured 1810 Farm House and Beatrix Farrand-designed garden are on the National Register of Historic Places, spoke of the continuing late night noise, trespassing and disruptive behavior by the seasonal workers living at Acadia Apartments. Yet her heartfelt concerns for her own safety and that of her grandchildren went unreported by the Islander. However, it is her property which directly abuts the planned location of four new two-story apartment buildings. Mills has stated several times that these seasonal workers trespass on her property and gardens and leave trash, alcohol bottles and needles.

The Islander could not even get the size of the building plans correct. It suggested that BHAPTS, LLC and Ocean Properties were simply going to add two new units, both of them affordable. In reality, four new buildings will be added to the property, each capable of housing ten more seasonal workers at a minimum, most within 10 feet of Betsy Mills’ back line.

While the Land Use Ordinance limits these buildings to no more than five unrelated individuals in any one apartment, this provision of the ordinance is almost impossible to effectively enforce. Our very experienced code enforcement officer is not to blame, as the town council has not provided the resources or better ordinances necessary to enforce these provisions.

80 people currently reside at Acadia Apartments in the tourist season. Does the Islander really believe that BHAPTS is going to spend well over one million dollars to simply house 10 more people at a reduced rental rate? This would make no economic sense.

The reality is that doubling the number of buildings on this site will inevitably lead to a near doubling of the number of seasonal workers.

It defies common sense to believe the number of seasonal workers will increase by only 10. These four completely new buildings will be overstuffed just as seasonal worker housing has typically been crammed with seasonal workers.

Ocean Properties does an excellent job of housing guests at its many hotels and making sure that both guests and staff stay in line. Let it apply those skills to worker dormitories that sit on their own premises. Other hotels have done this for years. Let Ocean Properties follow their example with the thoughtful leadership of our planning department.

My wife and I have stayed at many seasonal hotels outside of Bar Harbor. We have asked hotel management where they house seasonal staff from “away.” Most have worker housing on their own premises.

For instance, the Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews, New Brunswickanother small, densely built-up coastal town that attracts tourists with its quaint charm and pretty waterfronthouses its workers on-campus.

The seasonal staff are seen and heard by guests while they work, and remain discreetly quiet while they are not working. With management so close by, there is no incentive to behave otherwise. Abutting neighbors are not burdened with late night noise and other worse problems. Why can’t Ocean Properties learn this lesson from other hotel chains?

I urge all interested Bar Harbor neighbors to come to the next Planning Board meeting at 6 p.m. on Jan. 2, at which this site plan application will continue to be reviewed.

Arthur Greif

Bar Harbor

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