Last week voters in Bar Harbor spoke decisively, even among all the confusion and conflicting messages.
A full 60 percent of votes cast favored limiting the number of licensed vacation rentals in town.
They say there are two sides to every issue, but Article 4 generated more. Those who support unfettered property rights have valid points. Those who don’t do as well. Some voters recognized the need to address the housing shortage but objected to the means. There are those who believe that fewer vacation rentals will lead to more year-round housing and those who question that rationale. Some property owners seek to preserve the value of their rentals as assets they can pass down to their children.
People are always going to disagree on property rights and Bar Harbor officials are no different.
It is no secret that a majority of Town Council members wanted to limit the number of short-term rentals in town. It is also no secret that a number of Planning Board members were against it. The two boards were unable to come to an agreement. From there the council considered sidestepping the Planning Board authority over vacation rentals altogether and placing regulations in the town’s code rather than in its land use ordinance. This would have given the council complete control, also sidestepping the voters from their say in the matter.
The council ultimately didn’t go through with the plan to move the regulation of vacation rentals, but procedural maneuvering didn’t stop there.
Later, the Planning Board delayed approving a remote participation policy for members. That meant only four members were present when it came time to vote on whether to recommend the vacation rental article to voters. A “no” recommendation would mean the measure would need a two-thirds majority to pass. The Planning Board vote was a tie. Members seemed to think it was enough to compel a supermajority, but, not so fast, said the town attorney, opining that the tie vote was a lack of vote and therefore did not require a two-thirds supermajority from voters.
The Planning Board could have sought to remedy the situation with an emergency vote before the ballots were printed. Why wasn’t it done? Another vote with all members present would have cleared up any ambiguity.
And then came the signs. Yes on 4. No on 4. An appeal to “not ban the common man” – whatever that means. Like mushrooms after rain, signs started to pop up everywhere just days before the election. Few had the decency to let voters know who or what was behind the messages. It appears as if a loophole in Maine State Statute was enough to keep the messages from identifying the person or persons behind them, but it stands to reason that if you’ve got an opinion worth creating a sign for, you should attach your name to it.
When money is involved, people are influenced. Period. That is why the primary test to determine whether or not there is a conflict of interest has to do with money. If a person derives income (as little as 10 percent from something), then they are inherently conflicted, according to state statute.
Individual voters are not subject to such limits, and many had their own financial interests in mind when they headed to the polls Nov. 2. Still, Article 4 passed handily. It’s a shame that a clear win is not so clear at all.