Proceed with caution

The Bar Harbor Town Council has acted in the best interests of voters and the town as a whole by deciding against placing a conflicting zoning change on the June town meeting ballot.

At the direction of the council, the total ordinance recodification currently scheduled for the ballot contains language requiring planning board site plan review of large utility installations such as the one proposed by Emera on Woodbury Road. That petition seeks to add a conditional use permit provision to Schedule C in the existing rules. But those will be eliminated should the ordinance redo pass as expected.

If the redo does not pass, there will be plenty of time to consider the change proposed in the petition. Emera already has a valid building permit for a substation on Woodbury Road so the situation on the ground would not be changed. In fact, Emera has worked diligently with a citizens group to identify other locations and designs that would be more acceptable.

While town officials must put a properly prepared and executed petition issue to a vote – they have a year to do so – flexibility was needed to address the potentially confusing scenario presented by the petition.

The whole point of a lawsuit two years ago against the town over the Schedule C issue was the camouflaged way amendments were presented to voters. The public, plaintiffs argued, could not possibly know what it was voting on. Had the council put both questions affecting Schedule C on the same ballot this June, it would have generated yet another round of confusion, quite possibly leading both measures to fail.

The petition effort also seeks to make utility installations subject to a conditional use permit. Under those rules, a plan can be scuttled even were only one neighbor to object. Utility installations provide vital services for the entire community. No single property owner should be allowed to derail a project or exercise undue control over the rights of their neighbors.

All sides, including town councilors, petitioners and the planning staff, agree that additional oversight of utility installations is necessary. The only disagreement is in the timing and whose language gets adopted.

After several false starts over two years, a town-wide vote on reorganizing the entire zoning ordinance is finally on a ballot. At long last, the town has a chance to throw off the haunting ghosts of the Schedule C fiasco.

The redo will require planning board oversight of substations. Also it will allow the town to explore future substantive changes to the rules based on a format clear and easy to navigate.

The council decided currently that one question alone should get the top priority in June, free of any hint of confusion or obscuration.

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