The recent proposal by The Jackson Laboratory to build housing along Route 3 has highlighted a number of weaknesses in the town’s planning process. The piecemeal approach that the Planning Board and staff have adopted has resulted in 1.) affected parties not being properly informed of developments, 2.) pertinent information not being made available in a timely manner and 3.) the Planning Board taking a myopic view of the proposed development and failing to properly consider the traffic safety and environmental/aesthetics considerations of the development. The first two items are administrative issues and can easily be rectified. The latter is a more fundamental issue which involves the way in which the board reviews a project.
The chairman of the board stated at the Jan. 6 meeting that they would only consider the project before them, namely the building of 24 housing units, and not the fact that the lab intends to build 100 units on the site (potentially 144 units if you go by the lab’s schematic drawing). The issues that have been raised (namely traffic safety for employees crossing Route 3, the environmental impact and aesthetics of building eight or 12 three–story buildings on the side of a hill, plus other issues related to lighting and blasting) expand exponentially with the increase in development. In our opinion, you simply cannot just consider a 24–unit housing development in isolation and adopt a piecemeal approach to additional developments, especially when there is a plan in place to build significantly more units on the site. There needs to be a total site plan – something that is required in most other jurisdictions - and a review of the issues related to that total development. The Jackson Laboratory housing project also raises two fundamental issues that need to be addressed:
1.) Does the town want the lab to keep expanding its campus — should there be a limit on development? Is it in keeping with the image of the town and the national park?
2.) Do the taxpayers of Bar Harbor want to continue to subsidize the lab’s property development via property tax forgiveness? Last year it is estimated that the town forgave the lab $2.6 million ($2.7 million estimated property tax payments minus the lab’s donation of $90,000). The lab only paid 3.3 percent of the tax they should have paid. In addition, they received over $100 million in government grants (from taxpayers). Why should Bar Harbor taxpayers subsidize them twice?
The latter issues need to be addressed by the Town Council. As far as we are aware, there is no mechanism in place for the Town Council to review strategically important property developments and, in our opinion, there should be.
It is time for change in the Bar Harbor property planning process!
Nanette and David Schoeder
East Strawberry Hill