Viewpoint: “Yes” on 7 for more local control 



By Earl Brechlin 

 

Among a bevy of proposed zoning changes on the Bar Harbor written ballot on July 14, one item, Question 7, stands alone. 

 

Brought by a successful citizen’s petition circulated by your friends and neighbors, it seeks to address an oversight created when the town overwhelmingly voted to allow rentals of individual rooms but didn’t address the length of stay 

 

While that legitimized homeowners renting out a portion of their property to help subsidize expenses and pay their taxes, it ignored the fact that many folks who do so only rent for a few nights at a time. Not wanting to operate in violation of the law this season, petitioners are seeking to allow shorter terms but only for permanent residents renting a portion of their primary property.  

 

The change would split the definition of vacation rental in two. One would be “non-hosted” vacation rental that applies to any legally registered property in town. The other would be “hosted” vacation rental.  

 

Hosted would be defined as properties that currently qualify for a homestead property tax exemption under Maine law. That means your primary or legal residence, where you live, register your car and where you are registered to vote. With this change, only hosted rentals would be allowed to rent a single room and be allowed to do so for shorter stays.  

 

Non-hosted rentals, such as those owned by out-of-town speculators who hold property as a business or investment, could continue under this change, but would be prohibited from renting single or multiple rooms and from renting the entire property for fewer than five days.  

 

By dividing vacation rentals in such a manner, Question 7 would preclude the creation of ad-hoc motels in residential areas. 

 

It should be noted that town planning officials are working on a comprehensive package of vacation rental rule changes for possible vote in November. It would differentiate between types of properties and will go a long way to helping preserve community character and housing stock by capping the number of non-resident vacation rental properties at five percent of total units 

A public hearing on those worthy and well-thought-out proposals, which have been opposed by the same powerful financial interests that have protested the petition, is slated for July 8. But remember, only Question 7, the citizen’s petition, is up for a vote on July 14. 

The Question 7 petition effort was begun long before the current pandemic. The vacation rental landscape has changed this season as a result. But all agree, the lower demand this year is only temporary. And, it is especially vital that this change be made so that if and when it becomes feasible to rent this fall, year-round residents already severely impacted financially by COVID-19 can do so legally.  

Remember, Question 7 will would allow shorter stays but only on properties owned and occupied by year-round residents. It would not permit shorter rentals in other units. 

On Election Day, Tuesday, July 14, please vote Yes on Question 7. 

Earl Brechlin is a Registered Maine Guide, award-winning author and resident of Bar Harbor. 

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