The fierce debate and campaign over zoning for the ferry terminal property in Bar Harbor has not put the town’s best face forward. And the Town Council’s seeking to investigate Warrant Committee members who had actively campaigned for a particular zoning outcome was an unfortunate twist.
While state and local government agencies and chambers of commerce have worked hard to promote Maine and Bar Harbor, the civic warfare here was earning us a different kind of notoriety. The New York Times reported that the letters page of this newspaper “bristled with angry screeds.”
We’re not out of the woods yet, but judging by the tone of Monday’s presentation of the business plan for the property, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
The town is blessed with large numbers of residents who step up for volunteer tasks requiring eye-crossing detail, like the large group who made up the ferry terminal property advisory committee. Their work provided a very solid basis for the business plan, and the consultants carefully referred back to the committee findings to explain where their budget numbers differed.
Those who served on that committee are now very conversant on the issues and able to offer high level constructive feedback. That has raised the game, providing a workable solution. While that solution might not address everyone’s full wishes, a valuable new public asset now might be attainable.
If anything is clear from the cruise ship debate, it’s that residents and business owners here want the town to have as much control as possible over the flow of boats, buses and people. Letting private operators develop a marine facility there, then hoping they fail so the town can buy the property for a song, is wishful thinking. Voters should approve the bond issue to purchase the property next month.
Important questions remain. If tender boats carrying cruise ship passengers are to be accepted at one or two private facilities in the town center and also at the ferry terminal facility, who will decide which of them go where? Will either the private firm or the town have an unfair advantage in that market? Or will they be able to coexist?
Will there be state or federal grants available to help finance development? Are private contributions, large or small, an option? Would an international ferry operator be willing, and able, to contribute capital up front?
For now, though, the point is that it should be a public facility. And while there will be no outside pressure to choose a business plan by a particular date, it would be foolish to let the momentum and expertise evidenced Monday fade to fuzziness. The town should purchase the property, decide on a development plan over the ensuing months, then call for a vote on revenue bonds to finance the development of that plan at next year’s town meeting.