BAR HARBOR, Maine — Town leaders agreed Tuesday to pursue buying a former ferry terminal for $3.5 million to alleviate harbor and downtown traffic congestion.
The Town Council voted 7-0 on Tuesday to follow recommendations from its Ferry Terminal Property Advisory Committee and turn the state-owned Eden Street facility into a town dock, recreation and parking area.
The terminal purchase is part of a challenging issue — what Mount Desert Island residents should do to alleviate growing cruise-ship tourist visitation that motivated Southwest Harbor and Northeast Harbor to impose temporary bans on cruise ship visits.
The Maine Department of Transportation had given Bar Harbor until the end of November to decide whether to pursue a purchase. Residents will have the final say in a vote set for June.
Council Vice Chairman Gary Friedmann said he was impressed with the fine job the committee did in finding solutions that residents support.
He described “an overwhelming sentiment” in Bar Harbor to spend $3.5 million on the terminal rather than buy it for $1 million less.
“It’s the first time I can ever remember residents clamoring for higher expenses and taxes, but I think it’s with good reason,” Friedmann said during the meeting. “I also think that there are going to be opportunities in the future, as we develop this, to turn to the state for support,” such as grants.
The $2.5 million option would have come with requirements that the property be developed to include state maritime transportation uses within five years, but councilors rejected that as too restricting.
If paid for with a bond, the $3.5 million purchase would increase the town’s property tax rate from $10.96 per $1,000 of assessed value to $11.12, said Town Manager Cornell Knight, who supported paying the higher price.
That would push the tax on a $150,000 property from $1,644 to $1,668.
Described by a committee member as “the last possible place in our community that allows for public access to the waterfront,” the terminal could solve a lot of town problems by being turned into a multiuse marina, committee members said.
By accepting tenders, the facility could alleviate downtown pedestrian traffic on cruise-ship days by splitting it between downtown’s dock and Eden Street. The facility could accommodate parking from Route 3 and shuttle tourists into downtown while giving residents and island fishermen more dock space, committee members have said.
Its use would be part of a larger, professionally developed business plan that would incorporate recommendations from other committees tasked with better managing Bar Harbor’s traffic.
Committee members do not see the terminal being used to increase tourist traffic. The committee advised that Bay Ferries Limited, which owned the terminal until ending its Bar Harbor service in 2009, could use the facility unless its uses superseded town goals.