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July 17, 2020

JAX proposes employee housing development near Bar Harbor campus

map of bar harbor Screenshot / Courtesy Woodard & Curran Inc. The sketch plan shows a 44-unit employeee housing development across from JAX’s Bar Harbor campus.

The Jackson Laboratory has submitted a proposal to the town of Bar Harbor to build 44 housing units on a 37-acre tract owned by the biomedical research institute, across the street from its campus.

The units would be in five buildings, and the long-term plan is to develop 80 to 100 units at the site. All of them would go toward JAX’s workforce housing needs.

JAX employs 1,400 in Bar Harbor, where housing is at a premium. 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.

The lab is located about a mile from Bar Harbor’s downtown and within a stone’s throw of Acadia National Park. The development is proposed on Schooner Head Road, whose northern end traverses the municipality and then continues southerly through the park. The proposed project is a multi-family residential subdivision with phase-one construction of 44 units in one three-story and four two-story buildings, according to a sketch plan developed by construction engineering firm Woodard & Curran Inc.

The project is a direct response to Bar Harbor’s shortage of year-round housing, Kelly Doran, the lab’s director of engineering and capital projects, told Bar Harbor’s planning board at a teleconferenced sketch plan review meeting on July 15.

“Many JAX employees have a significantly difficult time finding housing nearby,” she said.

Two-thirds of JAX’s Bar Harbor employees commute from beyond Mount Desert Island, according to Doran. The employees commute from 67 ZIP codes in 14 of Maine’s 16 counties. Many come from the Bangor area and are bused to work on the Island Explorer through a program subsidized by the lab.

The goal of the project is to provide local housing next to campus, which will allow employees to walk or bike to work.

The project is also expected to alleviate pressure on Bar Harbor’s rental market, and to contribute to the local economy by bringing families to the community who will use local amenities, she added.

A couple of local residents calling into the meeting said they were concerned about visual impact and about the size of the development on what is otherwise a spread-out residential neighborhood.

“The development seems to be too big for the neighborhood,” said one caller.

Woodard & Curran engineer Sarah Nicholson told the board the development would include 68 parking spaces, stormwater management features and vegetative buffering to minimize visual impact from the road. The housing will be connected to the town water system. Outdoor lighting will be dark-sky-compliant.

Nicholson noted that the development does not represent an increase in employment at the lab.

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