A citizen petition in Bar Harbor seeks to imbed two aspects of cruise ship management into the town’s zoning ordinance. One would set a daily passenger limit, and another would bar the vast majority of ships currently visiting from ever being able to tie up to a dock. That, in effect, is essentially a backdoor move to preclude the use of the former Marine Atlantic Ferry Terminal on Eden Street as a cruise ship terminal. A pier there would preclude ships from having to transfer passengers via tenders or from having to run the engines constantly to maintain position in the bay, thereby cutting emissions.
While greater citizen involvement in community affairs is always a positive development, regulating passenger caps in the zoning ordinance designed to regulate land use and construction standards seems like an attempted end run around the Town Council. The council, the members of which are elected by the people, regularly reviews those caps. Situations change, technology changes, and there needs to be some flexibility to make adjustments which would not be possible were the proposal to succeed.
There are ample opportunities for citizens to make their voices heard on passenger caps now – should people take the time to do so. Would it behoove the council to more formally invite public comment before making a change? Absolutely. Should the citizens be more engaged in determining how many ships are enough? Unquestionably yes.
But the proposed amendment to the zoning would muzzle any discussion, subjecting even the tiniest routine management change or adjustment to political ebbs and flows.
Under the current system, should the council act outside the margins of the community’s collective consensus, they can be replaced with new officials who won’t.
Approving the petitioners’ measure concerning limiting the size of ships to dock insures that the congestion and crowds currently experienced in Agamont Park will never be handled in a more efficient manner. Some have raised concerns about more bus traffic turning onto Eden Street, but those buses already are traversing Eden Street. That traffic will not be altered by passage of the petition.
The buses currently form a virtual wall of metal down Main and West streets and along the town pier. Moving that congestion and those crowds off the town pier and away from Agamont Park would make life downtown better, not worse.
Nobody would contemplate using the zoning law to regulate which streets to first plow snow from, nor specify how many trash cans and benches should be positioned downtown. The town hires professional staff to make such decisions, with an elected council to set the priorities. Any effort to shift day-to-day operating decisions into a predetermined managed structure should be resisted. The established system already includes generous public input, with the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and unanticipated challenges.