To the Editor:
I am sure the irony posed by two articles in last week’s paper did not go unnoticed. The article on page 3 depicts the herculean efforts by organizations like the Island Housing Trust to provide affordable housing for Mount Desert Island’s workforce. The other article, above the fold on Page 1, describes the legal uncertainties resulting from the Bar Harbor Planning Board’s tie vote on whether to recommend for adoption the article limiting vacation rentals in town. The dissenting votes exhibit either a lack of understanding of the cause and effect between the proliferation of vacation rentals and lack of affordable housing or an absence of concern about the integrity of neighborhoods, the viability of the schools and the economic health of the community.
In the early 2000s, citizens of all MDI towns participated in MDI Tomorrow, a planning effort that sought recommendations for addressing a wide range of issues facing our collective island community. One of the primary thrusts of that effort were concrete steps to address workforce and affordable housing. The Island Housing Trust was created to actively work on providing affordable housing on MDI and the local housing authority expanded its mission to develop affordable homes. Between them, over 40 new homes were developed in new neighborhoods, made possible by changes in local zoning that promoted cluster development and incentivized the inclusion of affordable units. These projects and ongoing efforts since are laudable achievements, but the affordability problem continues to become more acute.
Online commerce has fundamentally altered the vacation rental business and the nature of real estate on MDI, resulting in the transformation of neighborhoods and making the efforts to create housing opportunities for the local workforce even more challenging. If we have learned anything in the last 20 years, it is that it takes assistance on all fronts including supportive zoning, the initiative of private organizations and directed philanthropy to make progress on this essential quality of life issue. The sentiment behind the dissenting votes of the Planning Board makes a challenging job only that much more difficult.