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July 7, 2021

JAX employee apartment complex breaks ground in Bar Harbor, aims to fill housing shortage

apartment complex Courtesy / Aceto Landscape Architecture Seen here is a rendering of a 24-apartment complex under construction near the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor.

To help address Bar Harbor's ongoing affordable housing crunch, the Jackson Laboratory has started construction of a 24-apartment complex there, less than a mile from the nonprofit biomedical research institution’s headquarters.

The lab has a staff of over 1,500 in Bar Harbor and is Downeast Maine's largest employer.

The complex, called Woodlands Lane Apartments, is a housing initiative designed specifically for the lab’s employees. It’s located on Route 3, the primary travel corridor on the Bar Harbor side of Mount Desert Island.

Total investment in the development is expected to be $10 million.

Located on a 35-acre parcel owned by JAX, the development consists of two buildings, each comprising 11,500 square feet. Rental rates haven’t yet been established. The units will likely be rented on a first-come, first-served basis once the application period opens up. Planning for the project has taken more than two years.

“The ability to build year-round workforce housing for JAX employees is a key strategic initiative for JAX and it is wonderful to see the project get off the ground after many years of planning,” Catherine Longley, the lab’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a news release. “Working with the town of Bar Harbor and others, we will continue to address housing and other important issues like childcare and transportation.”

Construction began in June with site work and building foundation preparation. One-, two- and three-bedroom apartments are expected to be completed by August 2022 with occupancy in the fall 2022. 

The design of Woodlands Lane Apartments aims to create a “residential community” of individuals, couples and small families, according to JAX.

The project utilizes sustainable design and construction principles, including the incorporation of elements of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or “LEED,” Passive House, and a system called “Sustainable SITES” that’s designed for creating sustainable and resilient land development projects, according to its website.

Since over two-thirds of JAX employees commute from beyond Mount Desert Island, the housing may also provide an environmental benefit by reducing commutes. The lab also considers the housing a tool for workforce attraction and retention.

“For JAX to attract a world-class workforce to this special and unique part of Eastern Maine, we must focus on ways to remove some of the challenges that impact retention and recruitment, such as close-by housing. By providing access to affordable, year-round housing, we aim to give current and future employees enhanced living options,” Longley said.

JAX is working with three Portland firms on the work: Wright-Ryan Construction for construction management, Ryan Senatore Architecture and Woodard & Curran for civil engineering and permitting services.

Housing is at a premium in Bar Harbor, where houses and apartments once available for year-round rental are now largely reserved for short-term vacation rentals, and Acadia National Park limits the land that can be developed

Other organizations on Mount Desert Island are tackling the affordable housing crunch. Island Housing Trust, a Bar Harbor nonprofit that promotes permanent workforce housing on the island, recently proposed building a cluster development of 10 affordable housing units, called Jones Marsh Affordable Housing Development, on a 30-acre lot in a village called Town Hill, on Bar Harbor’s outskirts.

Members of the Bar Harbor Town Council have called the lack of affordable housing a “crisis.”

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