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November 28, 2022

In face of housing crunch, Bar Harbor hotelier proposes employee dorm

chart with red outline Courtesy / Hedefine Engineering & Design Inc. The proposed site, outlined in red, is close to downtown Bar Harbor.

As the town of Bar Harbor tackles a shortage of affordable workforce housing, a new proposal by a major Bar Harbor hotelier would construct an 84-bed shared accommodation in order to provide affordable housing for employees.

“It’s been a long road,” David Witham, owner of Witham Family Hotels, told the Bar Harbor Planning Board.

Witham Family Hotels owns and operates 13 hotel properties along the coast of Maine, including nine in Bar Harbor.

Witham has said he views the employee housing project as a benefit both for his company and for residential neighborhoods where the hotel chain currently owns housing stock to shelter seasonal employees.

The proposal for 39 Kebo St., just shy of half an acre, is to build an 84-bed shared accommodation with eight kitchens and 23 bathrooms with showers. The structure would include a total of 17,150 square feet on three floors and a basement. In the basement would be a laundry room, storage space and mechanical equipment. 

There’s now a two-story structure on the property, said Geoffrey Fraser of Fraser Associates Architects in Bar Harbor, Witham’s consultant on the project.

The structure, once part of another inn, would be torn down. The new three-story building, said Fraser, would use traditional wood and shingle materials with a gable-roof design to echo the surrounding neighborhood. There would be minimal parking, since most seasonal employees don’t use cars, he said. Parking would accommodate trucks for services such as deliveries and trash removal. The property would be “greenified,” he said.

Courtesy / Hedefine Engineering & Design Inc.
Witham Family Hotels is proposing to build a dormitory to house seasonal employees in Bar Harbor. The site plan shows the proposed building.

“The proposal would be a vast improvement for the look and feel of the property and for its environmental impact,” Fraser said.

The planning board said it needed additional materials before it could deem the application complete. It scheduled a public hearing for Dec. 7.

Bar Harbor residents have been grappling with a growing shortage of affordable housing to buy and rent, a trend attributable to the conversion of units to the lucrative vacation rental market.

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