No reason to delay vote

By Arthur Greif

The Islander’s March 5 editorial defending the Bar Harbor Town Council’s decision to delay placing two citizens’ petitions on the annual Town Election warrant reflects the confusion of the Islander as to the plain language of the town charter, the history of the Appendix C litigation and the purpose and effect of the two simple definitional changes the citizens’ petitions propose for the land use ordinance.

The editorial incorrectly claims that the town charter gives the council “a year” to place the proposed warrant articles before the voters. The same charter provision that sets an absolute limit of one year to hold a vote says in the very next sentence that if the regular Town Election falls within that one year period, “the vote shall be held at the same time as the regular annual election, except the council may in its discretion provide for a special election at an earlier date.”

The town has but one annual election, on June 9 this year, and the council legally cannot delay a vote beyond that date.

The Islander seems to think that the Appendix C litigation reflected a defect in the way the original Appendix C was drafted. It did not. Justice Murray found that the council had proposed different versions of Appendix C for different warrant articles, making changes throughout the town, although they were advertised as affecting only a few districts.

It was a bait-and-switch presentation to the voters. The original Appendix C was ordered restored by Justice Murray. The only advertised purpose to the LUO rewrite as to Appendix C is to move permitted uses from that single four-page document to each individual district. Were both the petitioned warrants and the LUO rewrite to pass, the small changes in Appendix C made by the petitions could be moved to the individual districts by the planner the town will soon be hiring.

The editorial also misses the point of the citizens’ petitions when it focuses on the proposed Woodbury Road substation that Emera might build. The LUO rewrite would allow substations throughout most of Bar Harbor with only site plan review by the planning board. That gives the board almost no leverage to control how the substation is built: as an open-air facility surrounded by a prison-like fence, or as a compact building as in Europe and large American cities.

The Burn’s Corner substation has been enlarged in recent years with no planning board input although the current LUO requires site plan review in that district for enlargement of “public utility installations” which exceed 2,000 square feet.

The two citizens’ petitions limit substations to six districts and require conditional use permits before they can be built. Such permits do not, as the Islander claims, allow a single person to veto the plan, but they do allow the planning board to have a real say on what the proposed structures look like.

The petitioned warrant articles will improve the current LUO, and should the revised LUO pass, will ameliorate the worst aspect of that rewrite: allowing large substations almost everywhere in Bar Harbor.

The voters in Bar Harbor are among the most educated and intelligent in the State. As I circulated the citizens’ petitions, the voters quickly understood what they were asked to sign. In but ten days of a hard Maine winter, seven circulators gathered over 300 signatures. The voters are not confused.

However, the town council is confused. When Barbara Fessenden sought to point out on March 3 that the council had failed to comply with the charter and the constitution, she was silenced three times by the council chair. The chair stated on each occasion that the town’s attorney had told it that, even at public comment time, it could not “entertain comment” on the subject.

The First Amendment compels the council not to silence its citizens.

It is time for the council to listen to the voters and not let only its attorney speak to it.

Bangor attorney Arthur J. Greif lives in Bar Harbor.

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