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Updated: September 11, 2023

Bar Harbor will need an estimated 600 housing units in next decade, report warns

reflection with park benches and sidewalk File photo / Laurie Schreiber Bar Harbor is an attractive tourist destination, making it difficult for year-round residents to find housing.

Bar Harbor will need 616 new year-round dwelling units by 2033 in order to offset the effect of housing stock turned into short-term rental units, according to an analysis by town staffers.

Over the years, the town has also registered 637 short-term rentals, which otherwise could have been used for year-round housing for area workers and students. 

“The number of new units [needed] is approximately the same as the number of short-term rentals,” said Town Councilor Gary Friedmann. “That’s not a coincidence. You can see what’s happened to our housing stock. It’s gone into being commercialized.”

The analysis came at the request of the Bar Harbor Town Council, which reviewed the findings at its meeting last week. The goal was to get data on total numbers of housing units of all types.

Council members said they’d also like to consider a moratorium on the conversion or construction of new short-term units, in favor of incentivizing the creation of year-round units.

“There’s been a lot of talk since the last council meeting around a temporary halt to new transient accommodations,” noted Friedmann.

Since June 2020, the town has passed nine housing-related land use ordinance amendments aimed at removing barriers and incentivizing the creation of short-term and seasonal housing. That includes units that fall under categories such as employee living quarters, shared accommodations and short-term rentals. 

Some questions remain to be answered, such as to what extent employer-provided quarters are seasonal versus year-round.

Bar Harbor’s year-round population is 5,269 as of the latest census. But at any given time during the peak of tourism, the population exceeds 30,000. About 10,000 are day-trippers.

There’s also a student population at College of the Atlantic and employees who need seasonal quarters.

A number of construction projects are in the pipeline to accommodate various types of living accommodations. Among them:

Between 2018 and 2022, with the exception of 2021, the number of permits issued for new dwelling units ranged from 34 to 47 per year. For the first seven months of 2023, 26 new dwelling units were permitted. 

But these and other plans are not enough, said councilors.

“If we’re going to get to 616 new units in the next 10 years … we need to find ways to encourage more building,” said Councilor Matthew Hochman. 

The council agreed to put the question of a moratorium on its agenda for a future meeting.

The goal of the moratorium was not to be punitive toward the development of transient or short-term accommodations, but to gather data and look at ways to incentivize the development of year-round units, councilors agreed.

Even if adequate solutions are worked out, it will take time to get new construction on the ground.

“This is going to take a long time,” said Councilor Joe Minutolo. “It took us a long time to get here. It’s going to take us an awfully long time to get out of it.”

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