The road ahead

While no one likes a lawsuit, the parties involved in suing Bar Harbor over longstanding language inconsistencies between the charter and land use ordinance have done the community a favor. The recent court decision clarifying the margin needed to adopt a zoning amendment brought by citizen petition suggests changes need to be made in either or both of those documents. The confusion in these rules, written decades ago, did not result from any deliberate subterfuge or ill intent. But it points out the inherent difficulties in dealing with rules as complex and intricate as Bar Harbor’s.

Currently, there are three pathways for a change to become law. If a proposal originates with the Planning Board or Town Council, a public hearing must be held. Should the Planning Board not approve, the measure must win passage among the voters by a two-thirds margin.

Proposals brought to a vote by citizen petition now require only a simple majority to pass, even should the Planning Board oppose the proposal.

Forcing a two-thirds margin for every change also would require amendments to the town charter – a long and complicated process. Changing the ordinance to align with the charter would be simpler.

As suggested by those scenarios, the current process is flawed.

Should all proposed changes be required to meet a higher threshold, a two-thirds margin? Or is a simple majority vote sufficient? While a lower bar may seem attractive to citizen activists hoping to rein in developers, that same advantage also could be exploited by commercial interests seeking more relaxed regulations.

Before any changes are considered, residents of Bar Harbor needs to have a discussion about which scenario seems most politically palatable.

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