Following the defeat of the repeal and replacement of Bar Harbor’s zoning ordinance last week, a different approach obviously is needed.
The massive reorganization of any law as complex as Bar Harbor’s zoning regulations naturally stirs concerns that there may be inadvertent or hidden changes which may benefit some interests, or restrict others. The Town Council’s earnest attempts to insert several common sense changes into the redo, including tightening oversight on utility installations such as electrical substations, only added fuel to such suspicions. For a rewrite to pass political muster, officials need to be able to stand before voters and make the case that it contains no new approaches, that the status quo is preserved. That could not be done this time around.
Coupled with previous vote attempts that failed or were withdrawn due to editing errors, residents were not convinced that what they were voting on was just a simple redo.
The planning board has been waiting several years for recodification to pass, before proposing a series of changes. Perhaps that order of action should be reversed. Planners could propose individual changes, letting each sink or swim on its own. That would address the complaint, frequently cited by opponents, that too many changes had been lumped together.
Once the town has worked through those individual changes, perhaps in easy-to-comprehend batches over the next several election cycles, the badly needed rewrite could be addressed, free of side-issue distractions.
All sides agree the current ordinance is too complex. Consequently, only major developers, who could afford to hire the best lawyers and consultants, have been able to get things done these past few years. Average residents have been left feeling frustrated and powerless.
Rather than retreating to the trenches, rewrite opponents and town officials should schedule an informal session in an effort to share specific concerns and agree on some goals. Bar Harbor’s new municipal planner, now on the job, could serve as an objective facilitator. By taking a deep breath, and stepping back from talking past each other, all parties may discover they have more in common than previously realized.