BAR HARBOR, Maine — Due to concerns raised by residents, a proposed rooming house ordinance that was on its way to being on the local ballot this November was rejected Tuesday by the Town Council.
Without the council recommending the proposal for voter consideration, it will not appear on the November town meeting warrant. Officials indicated that if another proposal is drafted, the earliest it would be considered by voters would be next June.
Town officials in Bar Harbor have been hoping to adopt stiffer rules regarding safety standards for rooming houses ever since an October 2010 fire at a house on Roberts Square that nearly resulted in serious injuries for one of the tenants. The owner of the building, Thomas J. Testa, eventually was fined $250 for safety code violations at the structure, which he was using to house employees of his family’s local seasonal restaurant.
Town officials have said that a local ordinance that regulates rooming houses is needed in Bar Harbor, where housing is notoriously scarce during the summer tourist season, because the town currently has no mechanism by which to enforce existing safety rules. Rental homes and other dwellings used by local employers for their seasonal workers often are crowded and do not meet safety standards.
Currently, Bar Harbor has a limit of five unrelated people who can live together under one roof. The proposed ordinance would have allowed more than five unrelated people to live in one house, but the property owner would be required to pass a safety inspection and then obtain a rooming house permit from the town.
Several people attended the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday night and urged council members not to approve the proposal for November’s ballot. A primary concern they raised was that the proposal would have allowed rooming houses to exist in any part of town, including residential neighborhoods with year-round residents.
“I don’t want to see my neighborhood go this way,” Devon Road resident Donna Karlson told the council. “Please don’t put this on the [town meeting] warrant.”
Holly Duane of Myrtle Avenue told councilors that a house in her neighborhood that is inhabited by seasonal workers is a problem. The residents frequently make noise late into the night and make it difficult for her to sleep, she said.
“It’s really loud,” she said. “We want to keep [the neighborhood] residential [for permanent residents].”
Other concerns that were mentioned at the meeting included the possibility that large rooming houses could be constructed in neighborhoods inhabited by year-round residents and the lack of language in the proposed ordinance to set limits on the size of bedrooms or on the number of occupants each bedroom could have.
Councilor David Bowden expressed sympathy for people concerned about allowing rooming houses for seasonal workers in all the town’s residential districts.
“We need to find a way to protect certain districts in this town,” he said. “I think these people have legit concerns.”
Bowden asked Angela Chamberlain, the town’s code enforcement officer, if the proposed ordinance would require that neighbors be notified when a property owner applies for a rooming house permit. She responded “no” by shaking her head.
“That’s why we ought to vote against it,” Bowden said.
Several other councilors also expressed concern about the proposal and said they should reject it so work on a better proposal could begin as soon as possible.
“We’ve been talking about this since [the Roberts Square fire] happened, which is almost two years ago,” said Councilor Paul Paradis. He added, however, “I’m going to vote [for rejecting the proposed ordinance] because it does need work.”
The council subsequently voted 7-0 not to place the proposal ordinance on the town’s ballot in November.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.