The Bar Harbor Town Council is currently considering a proposal to temporarily ban the construction of new hotels in the area.
According to the proposed emergency memorandum included in the agenda packet for the town’s most recent council meeting, the purpose of the freeze would be to “allow municipal officials reasonable time to:”
- “Evaluate the concerns raised in regards to anticipated or proposed development of transient accommodations”
- “Determine the adequacy of existing land use ordinances and regulations
- “Develop additional ordinances and regulations to provide adequate protection for the property, health, welfare, land use compatibility, environmental compatibility, and protection of all residents and visitors in the Town of Bar Harbor”
In other words, the idea behind the temporary ban is to give the town’s elected officials a chance to consider concerns that have been raised about the possibility of new hotels — or “transient accommodations” — being constructed so that they have an opportunity to develop and implement additional ordinances and regulations if necessary before any new projects are approved.
If approved, the moratorium would remain in effect for at least 180 days after its passage, or until the Town Council adopts an updated set of regulations — whichever comes first.
Councilor Kyle Shank has expressed opposition to the moratorium, despite sharing support for the premise upon which the proposal made — solving the affordable housing crisis in Bar Harbor.
“While Bar Harbor is an incredibly unique and special place, we share a common problem with many other municipalities across the state and the nation: a lack of affordable housing, either to rent or to own, for our workforce,” Councilor Shank said in a statement to the Maine Wire.
“The moratorium on transient accommodations (“TAs”), as presented, made claims that a recent increase in the development of TAs was a leading driver of this problem, as well as others such as traffic and congestion,” Shank said.
According to Shank, however, this is not the case.
“Data provided by our planning offices speaks to a different story,” he said. “While one large (45 bed) project is underway, over the past five years we’ve actually seen a net decrease in the number of transient accommodations – driven primarily by a decrease in short-term rental registrations, highlighting the effectiveness of this ordinance only a few years into its passage.”
“In addition, while a moratorium may be short-lived, its potential consequences may not, and given the lack of a clear goal for the moratorium and conflicting information as to its need, I could find no reason to vote to approve it,” Shank said.
“I, along with all of my fellow councilors, are deeply committed to finding ways to help fix our housing crisis,” Shank concluded. “I just do not believe that this approach is one of them.”
Councilor Matthew Hochman told the Maine Wire that he favors a short-term moratorium on new permits for a period no longer than 6 to 12 months to allow the Council time to discuss the town’s overall capacity and to alter land use ordinances as is necessary.
Councilor Hochman noted that the kind of moratorium he supports would only apply to new permits and would have no impact on any existing projects that have already been approved or permitted.
The Bar Harbor Town Council recently voted unanimously to dissolve the town’s cruise ship committee, arguing that it had largely outlived its usefulness.
Many councilors instead expressed support for the idea of forming a committee geared toward better balancing the needs of locals against those of tourists and the tourism industry.
As of now, it still remains to be seen whether or not the Bar Harbor Town Council will ultimately approve the moratorium, and — if it does — how the councilors will opt to use the additional time afforded to them by the freeze.