To the Editor,
Tom St. Germain is confused in his column in the June 18 Islander. He writes of the “collective goals of the council, Planning Board and town staff.” Sadly, he omits the goals of the citizens of Bar Harbor. Planning staff had a lengthy meeting with 57 residents of the town on Sept. 11, 2019. The town planner wrote that citizens were “concerned with dark houses/neighborhoods, noise and trash in the summer, and lack of available housing for families and year-round workers who are starting out here,” adding that these citizens “almost unanimously support the concept of employee housing as an on-site accessory use.”
Despite this insistence by citizens that seasonal employees should be housed on-site and that the town should deal with affordable housing for year–round residents first, St. Germain is pushing four Articles (3 through 6) that place the interests of large hotels first and do nothing to address the housing crisis for year–round residents.
I count six misstatements about these Articles in his column. The Warrant Committee did not endorse “each of the articles” my wife, Donna Karlson, opposes in her flyer. That committee voted against Article 6 by a vote of 13-3 and only narrowly voted for Articles 3 and 5. Article 6 does not simply add “a single use” to the Shoreland District in Hulls Cove as St. Germain claims. By its terms, Article 6 enlarges that district and adds “two new uses” to that district: campground and a 75–room hotel in violation of the Superior Court’s final judgment that our Comprehensive Plan bars new hotels in Hulls Cove. St. Germain incorrectly writes that Article 3 would require all three– to four–unit apartments to “go through site plan review with the Planning Board” even though the Article itself states that it would “change the level of permitting for multifamily dwelling I uses from Planning Board to Code Enforcement Officer” in 22 districts. This creates a huge loophole by which any business can convert an existing residence to a four–unit apartment housing 20 seasonal workers with zero notice to neighbors and abutters.
St. Germain makes two misstatements with respect to Article 4. He claims that Town Hill Residential permits “seven of eight transient accommodation uses.” This is a misleading half-truth: only a tiny slice of that district allows such transient accommodations, the area north of Route 3 near the Sunnyside Motel, LUO Section 125-45(D)(1), and only three–bedroom bed-and-breakfasts are allowed in the vast majority of that district. Similarly, all classes of bed-and-breakfasts are allowed in only a tiny part of Village Residential, LUO Section 125-20(D)(2). Why has the Planning Board insisted on Employee Living Quarters being allowed throughout two residential districts that otherwise restrict commercial uses to tiny slices of those districts?
St. Germain claims three times that Employee Living Quarters are intended only to give employers the ability “to house their employees on site.” ELQs are defined as providing housing for temporary workers “that are employed on- or off-site, as long as the off-site employees are employed by the same company, a parent company, or a subsidiary company that owns the parcel where the principal structure is located.” This means that a large hotel can buy a small bed-and-breakfast, build an ELQ next to it, house one bed-and-breakfast employee in the ELQ, as well as 30 or more hotel workers from a downtown hotel.
It is critical to get a zoning change right from the start without loopholes the voters never intended. If Article 3 passes in July, a developer who files this summer or fall for a building permit for off-site housing for up to 20 seasonal employees in any of 22 districts has a legal entitlement to that permit. No attempt this November to close this or any other loophole can undo this damage we voters never intended.
Articles 3, 4 and 5 can have their loopholes removed and be re-submitted in November, but only if we vote “No” on July 14. Article 6 is clearly illegal, and the Superior Court will not be happy to see that the town has violated its decision of January 8, 2013.