Letter to Editor: Charter and land protection

To the Editor:

When the proposed re-write of our Town Charter comes before the voters next June, democracy, itself, will be on the ballot. Seven members of the Charter Commission wish to strip Bar Harbor voters of their unqualified right to approve every amendment to our Land Use Ordinance, or LUO. Decisions on how our small sliver of land nestled between Acadia National Park and Frenchman Bay is used for generations to come are the most important choices we make as voters. Budgets and candidates are transitory, but land is permanent. Visionaries such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and George Dorr understood this and helped preserve much of Mount Desert Island from ceaseless commercial development. Bar Harbor voters have continued that tradition in setting limits on commercial development and preserving our residential neighborhoods. The seven Charter Commission members who want to strip voters of that control are acting in haste in a careless drive for more “efficiency.”

The Charter Commission majority claims that voters will be protected by requiring all LUO amendments to be proposed by a two thirds majority of the Planning Board and enacted by a two thirds majority of the Town Council. Without further analysis they have assumed that this “super-majority” of each body is a difficult hurdle to cross.

Let us examine the last 10 years of LUO amendments that have come before the voters from June of 2010 until November of 2019, a total of 70 LUO amendments. The Town Council’s vote has simply been to put the matter before the voters, not to endorse it yea or nay, so the near unanimity of its votes on these seventy LUO amendments is unsurprising. But the Planning Board’s recommendation is printed on the ballot and carries weight with some voters.

Several members of the Charter Commission have stated that a super-majority of the Planning Board is such a high hurdle that it will be hard to reach. I have examined each and every sample ballot for the last 10 years. Here’s what I found:

(1) Sixty-three of these 70 Planning Board votes have been unanimous.

(2) Sixty-eight of these 70 Planning Board votes have represented a two-thirds majority or better.

(3) Only twice, in 70 votes over 10 years, has the Planning Board not had a super-majority vote and this last occurred for a LUO amendment on wireless communication limits that came before the voters in November of 2011.

The seven of nine Charter Commission members who voted in support of the change seem to believe that requiring a Planning Board super-majority for all LUO amendments will act as a check and balance against the over-commercialization and over-development of our town. They are dead wrong as this simple analysis of the data clearly shows.

Bar Harbor voters have been justifiably cautious about LUO amendments. We are a better community because we Bar Harbor voters have insisted on balanced development and limits on commercialization. Please attend the Charter Commission public hearing on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers and let the Charter Commission know that you do not wish to surrender your right to vote on LUO amendments that are so critical to the future of our Town.

It may be that seven of the nine Charter Commission members will ignore your voice at the Nov. 18 public hearing and move to strip voters of a power we have exercised so wisely. If they do, we voters should resoundingly reject this radical and unwise repeal and replacement of our Charter at next June’s election. The future of Bar Harbor depends on us.

Arthur Greif

Bar Harbor

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