Letter to Editor: Protecting a neighborhood

To the Editor:

I appreciate the Islander’s editorials because they bring attention and new perspectives to issues our Town faces. The “On the merits” editorial of Jan. 17 made me realize how difficult it is for our town residents to know what might happen just 650 feet (in my case) down the road from their homes in a well-established and legally-zoned residential neighborhood.

I add the following to the discussion:

I am a neighbor just 650 feet from the huge corporate seasonal worker housing expansion of Acadia Apartments on West Street Extension. I would never have known about the project had not an abutting neighbor alerted me. These neighbors were worried about how this seasonal worker housing project affected both themselves and our entire family residential neighborhood.

Mailed written notice was limited to those owning property within 300 feet of the project.

The first advertised public hearing notice in a newspaper was for the Hearing on Dec. 5, 2018. Because of numerous plan changes and delays, an Ocean Properties affiliate, a final vote was not taken until Jan. 16, six weeks later.

It was only through word-of-mouth that those in our neighborhood outside the 300-foot notice zone found out about this massive seasonal worker housing expansion. Notice of the neighborhood and sketch plan meetings could be found on the bulletin board of the municipal building and the town website, but I know few residents who have the time to follow these postings day-by-day.

But for an alert from neighbors within the 300-foot legal notice zone, I would not have learned of this project until clear-cutting of trees and construction of three new two- and three-story buildings had begun.

Our Village Residential District sets a minimum standard of 10,000 square feet lots for every dwelling unit (with sewers). This helps insulate homeowners from the noise, disrepair and other untidiness that might otherwise diminish both their peace and safety and their property values.

Yes, cities and downtown Bar Harbor have greater density, but like many others who are not urban, downtown people, we prefer land where we can garden, enjoy the birds and wildlife, view the stars at night, and walk and ride our bicycles throughout a year-round neighborhood. We live in Bar Harbor for the nature and small community closeness, not concrete and crowds.

As to the merits, the Village Residential District currently embodies the Great American Neighborhood guidelines created by the Maine State Planning Office. This requirement is imposed on each Planned Unit Development (PUD) by our LUO. It envisions residential continuity, affordable housing, public gardens, open space, and focal points, such as nature ponds. Neither PUDs nor the Village Residential District are intended for commercial dormitories for seasonal nonresidents.

The planning board approved this commercial project although Town Attorney Ed Bearor advised that the project exceeded the LUO’s base development density, was not grandfathered, had too many dwelling units, and had too few affordable dwelling units.

Our town attorney further cautioned the board that a court might agree that commercial temporary worker housing was impermissible in both the district and as a PUD. Three private attorneys who live within a half mile of this proposed development informed the Planning Board that the development did not comply with the LUO. Another attorney, whose historic property is close by, has also expressed legal concerns about this project.

Had the editorial’s author been present or streamed all of the meetings and read the many public comments included in the file, he or she would have realized that noise and disturbances have been a frequent complaint for the project as currently operated.

Very few neighbors actually call the police about noise, as they would rather approach their neighbor first. This community appreciates seasonal workers and is reluctant to endanger the employment and housing of these workers. A neighbor who has complained noted that when the police have responded to a noise or disturbance complaint, the noise ends and starts up again only when the cruiser has left. The police must have evidence of the noise and, after two documented events, the town council must authorize the legal fees from our property taxes necessary to bring the complaint to court.

As I have pointed out in prior letters, many successful hotels have on-site employee housing. This way, the hotel manages its seasonal workers, not neighbors who are awakened at 2 a.m.

The Islander suggests that the increased litter on West Street Extension is a result of its use as the Route 3 detour. As a frequent walker and cyclist in this neighborhood, I have noticed that West Street Extension has always been littered. What changed, after Acadia Apartments’ year-round low-income families were evicted by Ocean Properties and replaced exclusively with seasonal workers, has been the appearance of beer and liquor bottles along North Woodbury Road, primarily on the grounds of the National Historic Registered 1810 Farm House with its lovely gardens and woodland lot.

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly that ad hominem attacks are a poor way to foster productive community problem-solving, anywhere, any time, and in any community.

Donna Karlson

Bar Harbor

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