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September 12, 2023

Friends of Acadia buys 4 acres for development of park workforce housing

graphic of land Courtesy / Friends of Acadia Friends of Acadia plans to construct a primary residence with five bedrooms and an accessory dwelling with three bedrooms on acreage it recently acquired in Seal Harbor.

Friends of Acadia became the official owner of a four-acre parcel of land on Mount Desert Island in order to develop housing for seasonal employees of Acadia National Park.

In a transaction finalized Sept. 8, the nonprofit acquired the property from Seal Harbor Properties LLC for $265,000. Friends of Acadia financed the purchase through its own funds, Friends of Acadia President and CEO Eric Stiles told Mainebiz.

Seal Harbor Properties is governed by members of the Rockefeller family and offered the property at a discounted price.

“Acadia National Park is such an important part of Mount Desert Island for residents, businesses and visitors,” said Neva Goodwin, managing partner of Seal Harbor Properties. “The park suffers, like many other organizations, from a crisis in affordable housing. Seal Harbor Properties is very happy to assist in a transaction that will address a small part of the need.”

Seal Harbor was once a summer home to financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and then his son David Rockefeller Sr., who was chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Corp.

Friends of Acadia has partnered with the National Park Service to address the housing crisis on MDI and its surrounding communities. The housing shortage has a direct impact on Acadia’s ability to hire a seasonal workforce.

map with lots
Courtesy / Friends of Acadia
The site was sold by the the Rockefeller family.

"This is a huge step forward in our efforts to support the seasonal staff that keeps Acadia National Park running,” said Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider. 

The property is in the village of Seal Harbor, which is part of the town of Mount Desert. 

Located at Map 4, Lot 003 at the northern end of Jordan Pond Road within Acadia National Park’s administrative boundary, the parcel is referred to as the Dane Farm property. 

It is served by town sewer and water and has largely been cleared and leveled. It’s currently a gravel pit, used for storage of materials and equipment.

Development concept

In July, Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park leadership met with nearby residents of the property to lay out a concept for an initial phase of development and listen to input and answer questions from area residents. It was determined that the property is reasonably removed from immediate neighbors and provides easy access to the park, making it a good fit for Acadia seasonal employee housing.

Friends of Acadia plans to construct a primary residence with five bedrooms and an accessory dwelling with three bedrooms, as allowed under town zoning. The organization would then donate the land and buildings to Acadia National Park for long-term ownership and management.

The concept is still in the early phases and there’s no budget estimate yet. 

“We’re in design of the project now, anticipating final designs by mid-October,” said Stiles. “We’ll be going out for bids at that time. Friends of Acadia is committed to hiring locally and thus we’ve already started conversations with some local firms to gauge interest and availability.

"We intend to hire Maine firms because we believe that by engaging local talent in the design and building of this needed infrastructure, we’re further supporting local, good-paying jobs in Downeast Maine.”

The development project will be financed through fund-raising.

“As the official philanthropic partner to the park, Friends of Acadia has a long history of raising funds for important projects in Acadia,” he said. “This is no different. We started this tradition with funding Acadia’s carriage roads and trails — it’s what we do.

"Most recently, through our annual benefit paddle raise, we raised funds to allow FOA to purchase a new and much-needed boat for Acadia to access and service the park’s offshore islands and easements.”

The development proposal is consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan, including zoning, so no variances are being sought, although the project will need standard construction permits.

The goal is to break ground either in late fall or early next spring. 

“We won’t know until we get successful bids,” he continued. “But we are eager to deliver this much needed park workforce housing just as soon as we can.”

Friends of Acadia purchased the Kingsleigh Inn in Southwest Harbor last spring to provide an additional 10 bedrooms for seasonal park employees. 

The group has also helped fund renovation of existing park housing units to add additional bedrooms.

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