BAR HARBOR — Residents will have the chance to vote on five articles during November’s town meeting and the Warrant Committee has made its recommendations to Bar Harbor voters.
The 15-member committee met last Thursday to deliberate and vote on the pending ballot issues: lowering cruise ship passenger disembarkation; removal of a two-thirds majority voting requirement for land use amendments; allowing retail marijuana sales through two initiatives; and historic properties review.
Notably, the committee voted 9-6 against a citizens’ petition plan to limit cruise ship disembarkation to 1,000 passengers per day after over an hour of debate.
In a nearly unanimous vote of 14-1, the committee recommended the removal of the majority two-thirds vote requirement in favor of a simple majority for land use amendments to pass at town meeting regardless of how the Planning Board has voted.
They also voted 9-6 in favor of two separate citizens’ petitions allowing and licensing retail marijuana in town.
Cruise ship contention
The notion of limiting overall cruise ship disembarkation numbers in Bar Harbor is one hardly up for debate. But finding consensus on a single implementation strategy has been a years-long dispute.
One plan, initiated through a citizens’ petition, slashes current daily limits ranging from 3,500 to 5,500 depending on the month to no more than 1,000 persons per day. The town’s harbormaster would create a reservation system and counting mechanism for passengers coming ashore. A breach of compliance, overseen by the town’s code enforcement officer, would result in a $100 fine for each unauthorized passenger.
Bar Harbor residents will have the final say on this amendment at the November election, but the Warrant Committee recommended that voters reject it by a count of 9-6 during the Sept. 1 meeting.
The majority of committee members voting against it included Jeff Young, Eben Salvatore, Julie Berberian, Caleb Cough, Bethany Reece, Chris Smith, Kathleen St. Germain, Kevin Desveaux, and Louise Lopez.
The minority of members voting for it were Seth Libby, Robert Chaplin, Carol Chappell, Ezra Sassaman, Meagan Kelly and Allison Sasner.
The majority opposed to the citizens’ petition cited potential lawsuits, tax increases and adverse downstream effects for businesses to back their position.
They also worried it would override a recently passed plan created by the town’s cruise ship working group to negotiate a compromise with industry representatives. That plan makes monthly caps based on ships’ lower birth capacities and would not require additional oversight from the harbormaster and code enforcement officer.
“The current new proposal with the town and the cruise ship industry is a good start,” said St. Germain. “The citizens’ petition just ruffles feathers.”
But those in favor of the citizens’ petition stated the town’s plan, which allows for 65,000 passengers for both September and October – more than double the initiative’s cap – does not adequately address downtown congestion.
“When I look at these two initiatives, I think what the town has put together is a good start, but I don’t think it goes far enough,” said Libby, who is chair of the committee.
Others on board with the citizens’ initiative said environmental concerns about cruise ships emitting toxic fumes into the air and sea drove their conclusions.
Lastly, town officials voiced their disagreements with the proposal. Town Planner Michele Gagnon said the initiative is “creating problems down the road” because it’s “growing the monster” that is the land use ordinance.
Because the petition amends the land use ordinance intended for one-time uses, it would create additional work for the harbormaster and code enforcement officers, who would have to monitor the tenders daily.
Desveaux said the town isn’t capable of that level of enforcement in its current state.
“Do you know how many people that would take? How many job openings do we have in town right now?” asked Desveaux.
“Seven,” said Town Manager Kevin Sutherland.
Two-thirds to a simple majority
Bar Harbor may be the only town in the state to require this supermajority vote.
Currently, the town requires a two-thirds majority vote at town meetings on land use ordinance amendments that do not have Planning Board support. If voters approve the new proposal initiated by the Town Council, that two-thirds majority will turn to a simple majority.
This measure would follow the same requirements for LUOs approved by the Planning Board that only need a simple majority to pass.
The Warrant Committee voted 14-1, recommending the removal of the majority two-thirds requirement. This roll call vote followed zero discussion or deliberation from the committee.
Chappell did give a brief history on the topic before the vote. She said up until 1975, all land use ordinances required a two-thirds majority vote. Afterward, if the Town Council and Planning Board agreed on an LUO amendment, only a simple majority was needed to adopt it.
At the public hearing for the proposal on Aug. 16, Planning Board member Ruth Eveland said she supports getting rid of the supermajority requirement because it gives board members unequal leverage in the decision-making process.
Although the Town Council and subcommittees have overwhelming consensus on the matter, many citizens who’ve spoken at council meetings oppose the amendment.
“To take this away would be an open door for anyone to push through hasty land use amendments that are not carefully vetted and do not require the full backing of the voters,” said Erica Brooks.
Cough was the only member to vote against the recommendation.
Marijuana use and licensing
For two citizens’ petitions that combined would greenlight retail marijuana stores in town, the Warrant Committee voted 9-6 in recommendation of adoption on both accounts.
The first petition amends the land use ordinance to define recreational marijuana as a new use under retail in four districts within Bar Harbor, including downtown.
A second initiative enacts the licensing component for up to two shops, which is crucial for an adult use store to open. If both proposals are passed, the license carrier would also need state and Planning Board approval before issuing sales.
Voters rejected a similar article put forth by the same group in June. That amendment sought a license by referencing the land use ordinance that had not yet been defined to include recreational marijuana as a permissible retail use.
Unlike this current iteration, the Warrant Committee had recommended rejection of the last initiative.
The majority of committee members who voted in favor of recommendation of adoption on both counts included Berberian, Kelly, Libby, Lopez, Reece, Sasner, Sassaman, Smith and St. Germain.
The minority of committee members who voted against recommendation of adoption on both counts included Chaplin, Chappell, Cough, Desveaux, Salvatore, and Young.
Salvatore, who voted against the initiative, said the downtown should be “clean” and worried kids might be enticed walking by a storefront.
Sasner, who voted in favor of the proposals, rebutted Salvatore’s statement and said more regulation would make it harder to get, and perhaps eliminate the need for those who are selling the substance illegally.
A representative of the citizens’ petition, Philip Payne, said the industry is one of the most, if not the most, regulated retailers in the state.
“You have to have a government issued ID showing that you’re 21 to even get in the door, there has to be security officers on site to check those IDs, and you have to have security cameras cover 100 percent of the business so there’s no dead space,” Payne said.
During a meeting Sept. 6, the Town Council gave a separate recommendation of rejection for the licensing initiative on a vote of 5-2.
Historic properties review
The Warrant Committee concluded its deliberations with the unanimous recommendation for approval of the changes in Appendix A in the land use ordinance.
This list within the LUO contains “buildings and structures possessing identified historic or architectural merit… warranting their preservation,” said Chappell.
Historic properties and qualifying criteria are reviewed by the design review board annually, and any alterations in wording like a date or name change of these sites must be approved by town voters.
“This is kind of a rubber stamp of their work,” Chappel said.
Editor’s note: Philip Payne is the husband of a Mount Desert Islander employee.