From the Bar Harbor Planning Board
As we fast approach the 2017 summer season, we are already reminded of the increased traffic and congestion that summer brings to our small town, including the parking challenges that result.
Parking, or the lack of it, has been a recurring theme in Bar Harbor for almost three decades, and although attempts have been made to resolve the problem, challenges remain. Surely many people will lay blame for our parking woes with summer employees who consume all day parking on our residential side streets, sightseeing excursions that don’t provide parking for their passengers, apartment rentals that no longer require parking for tenants or a 2010 LUO change that no longer requires parking for shops and restaurants. What’s important here is not how we arrived at the problem, but that we take affirmative steps to begin to rectify it.
For the past year, the board, with guidance from the Town Council, has been working on a set of land use amendments to begin to address the parking dilemma in Bar Harbor. In our initial meetings with the council, the board was tasked with addressing parking concerns not only in the immediate downtown but also to have a more encompassing approach throughout all of the Bar Harbor area. After nearly a year of effort, we have drafted 10 land use amendments that will provide opportunities to alleviate some of our parking problems.
The most controversial amendment adds parking garages as an allowable use within the downtown area. Currently, a parking garage is allowed as an accessory use for a hotel or multi-family housing unit but not as a stand-alone structure. Given the general desire for visitors and residents alike to park in or near the downtown business district, the Planning Board believes that adding parking garages as an allowed use in this area is a logical choice.
The Bar Harbor Comprehensive Plan, voted and approved by the residents of Bar Harbor, also spells out the need for structured parking in downtown Bar Harbor.
Adding to our decision was the 2010 LUZO deletion of parking garages and parking lots from the Bar Harbor Gateway district (then Bar Harbor Corridor), Downtown Village I and Downtown Village II districts (then Downtown Business). The Planning Board felt that this was an accidental oversight and that the use of parking garage should be restored to the LUO.
Throughout our work on this, many people voiced concern for a garage that involves a partnership with the town and a private business. To be clear, a vote for these garage amendments is not a vote for this garage to be built. Any garage that Bar Harbor wishes to build in the future will have to come before the voters to request a bond.
Three other institutional areas the board felt garages would benefit are The Jackson Laboratory (Scientific Research district), College of the Atlantic (Educational district) and the MDI Biological Laboratory (Marine Research). All of these areas would be enhanced using a smaller footprint for their parking. In all six of these garage related amendments, a site plan review is required, as well as oversight from the Design Review Board, to ensure that neighborhoods are respected.
The other four amendments add the use of parking lots as a principal use, accessory use, off-site off-street parking and the use of parking decks to several of the districts as well.
Article 2 will add parking lots as a principal use to several districts. This LUO amendment would ensure that the town could create satellite parking or that a private developer could develop a parking lot as a business. This, once again, would be subject to a site plan review.
Article 3 adds some clarity to the definition of accessory use and creates parking as an accessory use to Downtown Village I and II districts, Mount Desert Street Corridor and the Downtown Village Transitional district.
Article 4 creates a definition and adds a use for parking decks to several districts. This is a structured parking alternative which is more than a parking lot but less than a garage. There are no internal ramps to get from one level to another but instead it utilizes the geography of the terrain to reach the second level.
Finally, Article 5 makes a provision for off-site, off-street parking. For instance, a business that did not have enough parking on its property could have a separate parking lot no more than 500 feet away that would satisfy its parking requirements. The parking lot would be allowed only in a district that permits the use of that principal business or use.
Voting for approval of these 10 land use amendments on Tuesday, June 13, is a vote to add some clarity to our current land use document as well as to create some tools for parking creation. It is the culmination of a year’s work that included meetings with the Town Council, guidance from our comprehensive plan and input from the Bar Harbor community through several public hearings.
Is there more we can do down the road? Absolutely. However, this is a first step, and although parking is not a problem that can be solved overnight, it is a problem that can be solved with some planning and the help of you, the voters.
Basil Eleftheriou Jr.
Tom St. Germain
Alf Anderson III
Bar Harbor Planning Board