To the Editor,
Bar Harbor faces an important town meeting next month with several well–reasoned, highly-debated and proactively-proposed solutions to our
housing policy. They are consistent with the framework for the policy
objectives that our Town Council, Planning Board, and town staff have
adopted, and I believe each article should be voted into our Land Use
Ordinance. I urge you to vote for them as well, and I offer the
following in support of that:
Our planning staff created our ‘Housing Policy Framework’ (HPF) last
year. The Town Council adopted it as a guidance tool for policy
initiatives that are likely to take several years to propose and enact.
The objectives in this framework are clearly articulated and represent
the collective goals of the council, Planning Board and town staff.
Among other things, the HPF is designed to reduce red tape, improve the
residential quality of our neighborhoods, encourage and provide the
tools for institutional employers to house their employees on site or in
commercial districts, address vacation rentals, etc.
The process of changing our LUO typically takes a minimum
of 6-12 months. It involves the introduction of an idea or policy,
Planning Board and/or Town Council workshops, review and public hearings
with the Planning Board, and another round of vetting by planning,
council and warrant committee. The typical path of a warrant article
such as those presented on this warrant takes a tremendous amount of
work, analysis and consideration.
It will take at least five years (likely more) for this Planning Board
and for future planning boards to propose appropriate, thoughtful
changes to our land use regulations that are consistent with the HPF.
During that period, it is important to remember that the boards and
committees tasked with these issues have chosen specific issues due to
specific policy objectives. In this cycle, the Planning Board and the
Planning Department chose to address housing policy framework issues
that would encourage employers to house their staff on site or in
commercial districts. I support the objectives and offer the following
as reasons why I believe the voters should as well:
There are four ways our LUO can be changed, and in this
round, each method has been used to create a proposal for the voters.
Several of the articles emerged from workshops held between the council
and the board. These reflect the objectives of the HPF and
include Articles 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. They refer directly to HPF
objectives. Below, I will discuss these articles and how they will
benefit our town.
Article 6 comes to the voters after being proposed by a property owner.
Article 7 comes to the voters after a citizen’s initiative.
Articles 6 and 7, by their nature, emerged as proposals from their sources
with less input from the Planning Board or other town bodies than the
The mailer we recently received that voices opposition to most of these
proposals has inaccuracies that must be addressed.
Contrary to what the mailer says, Article 3 would continue to require
all new multifamily 1 uses to go through site plan review with the
Planning Board. The contention in this mailer that ‘Big Hotels’
would somehow invade our neighborhoods under this proposal is false. In fact,
this is a very narrow proposal that would allow, where the standards
found in the LUO permit them, a property owner to convert an additional
space into a dwelling unit where one, two or three already exist
legally. Any new multifamily use (three or four dwelling units) would
continue to be reviewed by the board.
A familiar false claim is repeated in the mailer in reference to Article
4, the proposal to allow Employee Living Quarters in several districts.
The Town Council explicitly stated that any zoning districts where
transient accommodations such as hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts
are allowed should also be encouraged through zoning to house their
employees on site. The Planning Department and Planning Board submitted
the ELQ proposal for exactly this purpose. The two particular districts
mentioned in this mailer have specific allowed uses that are material to
this proposal. Namely, seven of eight transient accommodations uses are
permitted in the Town Hill residential district. The council was adamant
in including this district so that if anyone were to propose such a use
there, they would have the tools to house their employees on site. The
board also saw that the Village Residential district permitted
all bed & breakfast uses there, when the proposed use has frontage on or
access to either Eagle Lake Road or Route 3. As such, the board
also included the ELQ proposal here so that if a B&B were to be proposed
in this district, the operator would have the ability to house their
employees on site.
There is so much information missing from this mailer about article 5,
it reflects inaccurately the real merits of this proposal. First of all,
this proposal strictly limits this proposal to commercial,
non-residential districts where the larger Shared Accommodations are
proposed. After multiple public hearings, this standalone use excludes
residential districts. The dimensional standard of 70 square feet of
bedroom space per occupant emerged from multiple site visits including
the YWCA and other such employee-oriented accommodations that currently
exist. This standard is commonly used in the International Building
Code, and at our own YWCA where Mrs. Karlson herself is a supporter.
Article 6 was proposed by a property owner. The board improved
the proposal and the town attorney supported the changes to the original
proposal that the board articulated and included in the final
proposal. Simply stated, article 6 adds a single use to our list of
transient accommodations (eight so-called TA definitions already exist).
This new definition includes the modern version of camping commonly
known as ‘glamping.’ Contrary to the mailer, this new proposed use
includes several properties in that district and could be proposed in
other district should a future board, council, property owner or
citizen initiate such a process.
Finally, Article 7 appears before us as a citizen’s initiative regarding
vacation rentals. Because of its appearance on the HPF, the planning
staff and board are working in real time on other vacation
rental questions for future warrants.
It should be noted that Mrs. Karlson’s own warrant committee voted in
favor of each of the articles she claims to individually oppose. Her
‘Government Affairs Subcommittee’ of the warrant committee also voted in
favor of each of the items she claims to oppose.
It has become an annual rite for Mrs. Karlson to oppose the work of the
Planning Board, the Town Council and town staff with her never-ending
reasons for denying this town and its citizens the need for change. It
is hard to understand why some people are so determined in their
conservative approach to policy that they must attempt to deny our town
its need to change and make progress.
Since they moved here several years ago, Mrs. Karlson and her husband, Art
Greif, have appointed themselves the “get off my lawn” ad lib committee
against all change. Their conservative-oriented and predictable attempts
to reject of all proposals are inconsistent with this community’s history
of progressive changes. To her credit, Mrs. Karlson attached her name to
this mailer; in past years, similar, if not identical, mailers have
appeared in our mailboxes, but the writers and financiers of such
mailers have lacked the willingness to attach their names to their like
The demagoguery found in this mailer must be rejected. Please support
change on this ballot.
Please vote “yes” on all the articles.
Tom St.Germain is the chairman of the Bar Harbor Planning Board