MDI zoning changes pave way for hotel renovations

Posted Nov. 21, 2010, at 8:31 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:06 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — As work gets under way on a new hotel on West Street, another on Eden Street is about to undergo a major renovation.

Last week, the planning board gave conditional approval to Witham Family Limited Partnership to significantly redevelop Atlantic Oceanside Hotel & Conference Center. The partnership is controlled by the family of David J. Witham, who owns or co-owns nine hotels in Bar Harbor and four more in the Ellsworth area.

Witham plans to raze four buildings at Atlantic Oceanside and to construct one large building to take their place. The new building will have 60 rooms, the same number as the total of the four buildings that are being removed. There are 153 rooms total at the hotel and conference center, which Witham purchased from the Cough family in the spring of 2008.

The renovation project is moving forward now that hotels are a permitted use along the eastern side of outer Eden Street. Before voters decided to change the neighborhood’s zoning earlier this month, the area had been zoned residential, even though it had several grandfathered hotels in the district.

Witham indicated Friday in an e-mail that the project will replace the old rooms with ones that meet contemporary life-safety and industry standards.

“The project will start soon with a July 1, 2011, scheduled completion,” Witham wrote.

Witham declined to indicate how much the renovation project will cost. He said that after the new 60-room building is finished, he hopes to begin work next fall on renovating the conference center, which occupies a separate building on the property.

Voters also approved a zoning change in the village of Salisbury Cove for the Best Western property, also owned by Witham.

That zoning change also made the Best Western a conforming use, but Witham indicated he has no major renovation or expansion plans for the Best Western property. He said he has made extensive interior upgrades to the rooms, building exteriors and landscaping. He said that at some point he may add sleeping lofts to the rooms but has not made any decision about doing so.

A major hotel project on West Street in Bar Harbor is being pursued by Ocean Properties Ltd., an international hotel and resort management firm owned by the family of Bangor native Thomas Walsh. Walsh and Witham are known to be fierce competitors who sometimes have staked legal challenges to each other’s projects.

Ocean Properties representatives have said they hope to open their new $12 million, 102-room luxury hotel on West Street in the spring of 2012.

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