Letter to Editor: Equality under the law

To the Editor:

Kendra Rand’s letter to the Islander on the doubling of Acadia Apartments’ footprint stresses the need to help those who come to the island, “regardless of income, origins or seasonal residency.”

As a lawyer who has represented victims of discrimination for over 40 years, I agree wholeheartedly. I have often had the duty of fighting against employment discrimination throughout Maine. I have handled or am currently handling claims of disability, nationality, whistle-blowing, age, religious, racial and gender discrimination in both state and federal court.

What this experience has taught me, and has taught those employers who faced steep verdicts or expensive settlements, is that the law must be respected. It is the sturdy framework which holds our increasingly diverse, multi-ethnic community together. It is also the great equalizer, for only in a courtroom is a solitary employee on an equal footing with the large corporation that once employed her or him.

My concern for employees also includes concern for their housing needs. I and others vigorously opposed attempts by the planning board and the town council in November of 2013 to create a rooming house ordinance that had no upper occupancy limit, allotted only 50 square feet of bedroom space for each seasonal worker, and provided no requirement for either a stove or a refrigerator anywhere in the building.

I argued that our seasonal workers deserved far higher minimum living conditions. I urged the town council to vigorously investigate what one councilor conceded were about 50 illegal rooming houses that were already violating the LUO’s prohibition on more than five unrelated people living in a single dwelling unit.

The voters rejected the addition of inadequate rooming house regulations to the LUO, but the town still has no effective enforcement to prevent overcrowded worker housing. The good news is that the planning department has drafted new temporary worker housing LUO amendments and we can all add our suggestions and concerns at upcoming public hearings.

At the Jan. 16 planning board meeting, our able Code Enforcement Officer, Angie Chamberlain, told Ms. Rand that it was nearly impossible to enforce the five people per dwelling unit limit as her office is currently empowered.

I suggested that the owners of seasonal worker housing should be required to provide and update lists of all tenants in their buildings to at least make our CEO’s job easier. Just as we need both speed limits and police equipped to enforce those limits, we need a better regulation of seasonal worker housing and a CEO equipped to enforce those regulations. Dwelling units rented as vacation rentals are subject to this same five unrelated people per dwelling unit limit.

The planning board must also be willing to enforce the LUO as written. Town Attorney Ed Bearor told the planning board that the Acadia Apartments project exceeded the LUO’s base development density cap, was not grandfathered, had too many dwelling units, and had too few affordable dwelling units. A majority of the planning board ignored their own lawyer. Mr. Bearor also advised the planning board that a court might well conclude that commercial worker temporary housing was impermissible in both the Village Residential District and as a PUD, as both are expressly limited to residents, not temporary workers.

I and the entire Bar Harbor community welcome and appreciate our workers and visitors. However, we want those who house these workers and visitors to comply with the law.

Neither my criticisms nor Town Attorney Bearor’s criticisms of the attempt by an Ocean Properties subsidiary to double the footprint of worker housing units at Acadia Apartments were based on “caricatures of hotel and big business management” as Mr. Rand writes. They were based on the law.

The planning board’s only task was to determine whether the Ocean Properties subsidiary’s site plan complied with our voter-approved LUO. Every concern raised at these hearings was focused on whether the site plan complied with the law. Similarly, while Ms. Rand suggested that “it’s easy” to “express concern about noise intrusion,” I disagree.

Those neighbors who came before the planning board to complain about the noise level they were exposed to by current occupants of Acadia Apartments did so reluctantly. One neighbor suggested that the problem could be solved if the Ocean Properties subsidiary provided a nighttime security service to promptly manage any workers who became too noisy. Management for Ocean Properties declined, and the site plan approval for the project imposes no security requirement on the developer to bring any noise or other disturbances under control.

No neighbor who has spoken out against this doubling of the footprint of Acadia Apartments has done anything other than ask that the Ocean Properties subsidiary comply with our LUO and make a real effort to comply with our noise ordinance. Sadly, a majority of the Planning Board has joined Ocean Properties in deciding that the clear language of our local law can be overlooked and ignored.

Arthur Greif

Bar Harbor

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