Letter to Editor: Housing crunch self-inflicted

I thank your paper for its Dec. 13, 2018 article “Apartment project debated.” This article reports on some of the concerns about the four new two-story seasonal worker buildings (not merely two additional dwelling units) which are proposed to be added to the already-existing four seasonal worker buildings and jammed onto a less-than-two-acre lot at 25 West Street Extension.

One of journalism’s most important functions is to fully inform the public. This article helps expose how the owners, Bar Harbor Apartments, LLC (BHAPTS, LLC) and Ocean Properties Limited (OPL) are likely misusing a special subdivision process described in our Land Use Ordinance (LUO) called Planned Unit Development (PUD). The PUD process is intended to encourage increased, decent and affordable housing for year-round residents, not seasonal workers.

I live just under 650 feet from this proposed major expansion. I have been following it closely and have heard neighbors’ concerns about late night noise, disorderly conduct, littering and the crowding of eighty seasonal workers (per the project manager’s statement) into these seasonal worker housing units. I am concerned that the four new buildings (two stories each) will be built only ten feet (the side set back requirements) from the property line of one of our most unique and treasured National Historic Registry properties in Bar Harbor.

This 1810 Farm House was built by the Richardson family and is one of the few to survive the 1947 fire on that side of Eden Street. These four plain rectangular two-story seasonal worker buildings (think of barracks designed to be cheaply and quickly built) will ruin the Farm House’s views and the carefully-created woodland “frame” to the Beatrix Farrand-designed and meticulously maintained gardens on the 1810 Farm House grounds. Admirers of Beatrix Farrand’s internationally-renowned landscape designs come from around the globe to visit this beautiful gem. Our Comprehensive Plan and LUO are clear that development should not degrade historic-adjacent properties.

The dearth of affordable year-round housing is a problem that teachers, small business owners, medical professionals, town employees and retail and service professionals face and is most often identified as the number one problem our island and town face. In contrast, OPL has actively worked to remove year-round housing, not enlarge it. Now OPL has discovered a new tool, the PUD, to continue to gobble up existing and potential affordable year-round housing to house its temporary seasonal workers.

I can’t begin to understand OPL’s disregard for both our year-round neighbors and the importance of a permanent home to children and families. However, I can do my best to explain the risks of the company being allowed to double the number of seasonal worker buildings from four to eight. OPL wants to create a PUD exclusively for OPL workers, almost all of whom are seasonal.

The major risk is that the PUD will be allowed in much of Bar Harbor as a vehicle for seasonal worker housing. If OPL is permitted to double the seasonal worker housing buildings at Acadia Apartments, it will use it again in other Bar Harbor neighborhoods. Year-round housing will give way to OPL workers who are here for typically less than six months out of the year and often are not the same people returning each year.

PUDs are allowed in more than twenty zoning districts. Obviously if BHAPTS LLC and OPL persuade the Planning Board to approve this PUD project, OPL will have much of the Town of Bar Harbor in which to exclusively house their hundreds of seasonal workers.

Other hotel/restaurant corporations may follow suit. I am worried about the future of what little remains of our year-round neighborhoods and schools. They are already diminished by vacation rentals and escalating real estate prices, and may completely disappear if PUDs filled with temporary seasonal workers push out the last of our year-round residents.

With many selective and cunning arguments, representatives of BHAPTS LLC and OPL appear to ignore the basic premise of our voter-approved LUO.

The LUO clearly discusses and describes the PUD and affordable housing as housing intended for permanent year-round residents, not summertime staff that may never return. The need for year-round affordable housing is described in the comprehensive plan as a critical issue to be addressed and solved.

Our Planning Board will meet on Jan. 2 at 6 p.m. to continue the public hearing and continue their own deliberations to approve or not approve this proposed PUD project. Please attend if you have questions or concerns. These board members listen carefully and take their duties seriously.

And yes, the planning board and planning department have already started to develop some thoughtful solutions to the need for more seasonal worker dormitories, rooming houses and seasonal employee housing. There are several draft ordinances available through the planning department and workshops and regular meeting open to all are being planned for 2019.

In conclusion, I strongly encourage the planning board to reject the PUD application and encourage BHAPTS and OPL to work with our town and year-round residents to effect a balanced solution to all housing problems. The companies need to be good corporate citizens and affect a good solution for all, whether one is a seasonal worker or someone for whom Bar Harbor is home.

Donna Mae Karlson

Bar Harbor

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