By Donna Karlson
I find it sad and disheartening that Planning Board Chair Tom St. Germain has continued his pattern of hostile personal attacks on me, my family and our elected officials in his Islander column of June 18. He has the right to write a mean-spirited and untruthful opinion column. However, he hasn’t recognized that we live in a town whose year-round citizens want to work together on our common goals in a respectful and positive way. No one wants to see citizens bullied and demeaned by public officials.
Our town has adopted a Civility Code, thoughtfully provided by Nina St. Germain through a series of public workshops. The town has also adopted Robert’s Rules of Order. This Civility Code and Robert’s Rules stress that councils, committees and boards should conduct themselves respectfully and fairly, recognizing that we all, as citizens, have an equal right to speak, without fear of rebuke or retaliation. When a Planning Board chairman attacks a citizen for her opinions, it diminishes the core tenet of our Declaration of Independence, that we are all created equal.
For starters, neither I, nor my family, am on the July 14 ballot. Articles 3, 4, 5 and 6 are. Do any of these Articles help grow our year-round family neighborhoods or prevent large corporations from buying up our housing stock and land in our year-round neighborhoods? No.
Article 3 (No Notice Permitting) – Mr. St. Germain’s comments on Article 3 demonstrate that he doesn’t understand how it will change our current LUO permitting: (a) The actual text of the “Explanation” section of Article 3 states that the “amendment will change the permitting authority for all multifamily dwelling I uses from site plan review through the Planning Board process to a permit from the Code Enforcement officer in all districts where the use is currently allowed.” (b) Yet, Mr. St. Germain writes in his column that “Article 3 would continue to require all new multifamily I uses to go through site plan review with the Planning Board.” If you think Mr. St. Germain’s description of Article 3 contradicts what Article 3 actually states, you’re right!
If Article 3 is not clear enough for the town’s Planning Board chairman to accurately explain, it is not ready for we citizens to vote “yes” or “no.” Moreover, Mr. St. Germain is wrong when he says big hotels would not invade our neighborhoods if Article 3 passes. Big hotels have already deeply invaded our neighborhoods to house their seasonal workers. Article 3 will allow this to continue, but without any notice to neighbors or abutters. Code Enforcement Officer approval would not require public notice for all multifamily I projects. Currently, Planning Board site plan review does. Thus, Article 3 would allow a residential building to be converted to a four–unit apartment complex housing 20 seasonal workers without public notice.
These seasonal workers are fine people. I wish they and their families would move to Bar Harbor and become year-rounders.
Article 4 (Employee Living Quarters or ELQs) and Article 5 (Shared Accommodations or SAs) – I will address these two Articles together, as they are really Trojan Horses, but of different colors.
Several years ago, a local hotelier asked for assistance with worker housing and the Planning Department and Planning Board responded with a concept I supported: allow businesses to develop staff dorms on their own campuses and give these businesses lot coverage incentives. This concept was limited to a small number of commercial districts serviced by town water and sewer. This complied with our Comprehensive Plan (Strategy 6A2) and our Town Council’s Housing Policy Framework, Strategy 2: “Provide affordable seasonal housing, preferably in the village area and on land that is served by water and sewer, and in close proximity to places of employment.”
The advantages of on-site staff dorms are enormous: (1) The workers are at their work site. Commuting and parking problems disappear; (2) management of staff difficulties can be identified and resolved by the business’s managers, not neighbors or our police; and (3) staff housed on campus are more likely to be a valued part of the businesses’ renowned services.
Thus, I recommend only one category of staff housing, located as an accessory on-site use in commercial districts only. This comports with the feedback from the citizens who attended the 2019 public listening sessions. Our planning director wrote that these citizens “almost unanimously support the concept of employee housing as an on-site accessory use.”
As the Islander noted in its June 18 edition, a Planning Department survey revealed that “employers collectively use 88 buildings, 44 single family homes and 241 apartment units to house their staff.” Neither Article 4 nor 5 requires that hotels bring this proliferation of existing worker housing into compliance with these changes if 4 and 5 pass.
Article 6 (Illegal Zoning Change) – Mr. St. Germain makes a glaring error in claiming that the Warrant Committee recommended this Article. The actual vote was 13-3 against this illegal zoning. He then claims that this Article merely adds a single use to the Shoreland Development District at Hulls Cove. He breezily describes this use as “glamping.” Actually, Article 6 redraws our zoning map to enlarge this district to accommodate an Ocean Properties affiliate and adds two new uses, not one. This would allow this Ocean Properties affiliate to build a 75–room hotel, a campground that includes RVs, restaurants, retail space, conference and recreation rooms and game courts. This is hardly just “glamping.”
Mr. St. Germain does not mention that, on January 8, 2013, the Hancock County Superior Court held in Bracale v. Town of Bar Harbor that our current Comprehensive Plan “excludes new hotels” in Hulls Cove.
Finally, Mr. St. Germain wrongly suggests that I always disagree with the Planning Board. I have examined 10 years of ballots and determined that, as a Warrant Committee member, I have voted the same way as the Planning Board more than 75 percent of the time.
Emphasizing the common ground we all share is a better way to work together for our community’s future than just demonizing those who sometimes have a different viewpoint.
Donna Karlson is a resident of Bar Harbor