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Updated: May 15, 2023

YWCA in Bar Harbor buys 27 acres to create affordable housing

aerial of farm buildings harbor Courtesy / Swan Agency Real Estate The YWCA of Mount Desert Island bought a 27-acre tract of land in Bar Harbor and has begun planning for a project to include affordable rental housing and other potential uses.

The YWCA of Mount Desert Island bought a 27-acre tract of land at 891 State Highway 3 in Bar Harbor and has begun planning for a project to include affordable rental housing and other potential uses.

“Our goal — and we are pretty open to anything that comes our way — is to provide housing for families who live here year-round, work on the island and can’t afford or can’t find a place to live,” said Executive Director Jackie Davidson.

The seller was Shaw and Gott LLC.

Kim Swan of Swan Agency Real Estate brokered the off-market deal. The sale price was $1.2 million, she said.

The parcel is located in a village of Bar Harbor called Salisbury Cove and is known locally as Hamilton Station. 

JAX lab history

Hamilton Station once belonged to Jackson Laboratory, a Bar Harbor-based biomedical research laboratory that curates over 12,000 strains of genetically-specialized research mice. According to a 2014 article in the lab’s Search Magazine, Hamilton Station played a key role in saving a few strains during an October 1947 fire that destroyed the lab along with much of the surrounding area.

The parcel, which includes two big red barns, a farmhouse and a caretaker’s cottage, changed hands a couple of times since the lab’s ownership, Swan said.

Last year, Swan related, Davidson contacted her to talk about the Y’s discussions around trying to address the area’s affordable housing crisis for year-round residents.

The Hamilton Station property wasn’t on the market, but Swan knew the owners, Brian Shaw and Tim Gott. Swan said her only concern regarding the deal was keeping it quiet after the area contractors agreed to the sale.

“Over 20 acres on Route 3 — that’s really valuable,” she said. “I just wanted the Y to have it. We really worked hard to keep it quiet.”

The interior of one of the barns still has evidence of Jackson Laboratory’s past occupancy, such as rooms with sinks and places to set up equipment, said Davidson. 

The Y had been looking for a year or two at different properties that came up for sale, including larger houses that could perhaps be turned into apartments. But they were overpriced and needed a ton of work, she said.

Davidson credited Swan for bringing Hamilton Station to the Y’s attention and pulling the deal together.

While the primary focus is on creating affordable rental housing, the Y is referring to the project as mixed-use because it’s going to look into additional potential tenants, such as a day care facility. 

Innovative finance strategy

The Y, its lawyer and Machias Savings Bank put together an innovative strategy to finance the purchase through a non-traditional mortgage.

“We essentially mortgaged some funds that were left to us by individuals who expressed the hope that we’d use it for capital improvements,” she said. “We mortgaged the holdings and we’re essentially making mortgage payments on that.”

That leaves the property itself mortgage-free.

The nonprofit is looking at grant programs to further the project and expects to launch a capital campaign to finance construction sometime in the near future, said Davidson.

It’s likely that the development will be divided into phases, with the first phase likely being apartments. 

The YWCA has had a presence in downtown Bar Harbor since 1913. The facility offers a variety of children’s and community programs as well as summertime dormitory-style accommodations — with a communal kitchen, bathroom and common spaces —  for women. 

Affordable housing for seasonal workers has long been an issue in the area, said Davidson. Particularly over the last decade or so, waiting lists have far outpaced available rooms.

In response, she said, the Y’s board began looking at what it could do around affordable housing for women and families. 

The Y is now evaluating the needs, opportunity and future of the property, said Davidson.  

Huge potential, endless options

“The potential is huge and options are seemingly endless,” she said. “This is a very exciting project for the YWCA and our board as well as the community at large.”

The Swan Agency Real Estate made the first donation, of $25,000, to the project last month.  

4 people smiling with oversize check
Courtesy / Swan Agency Real Estate
From left, Swan Agency Real Estate owner Kim Swan presents a donation to YWCA MDI Executive Director Jackie Davidson, Board President Ann Worrick and office manager Abby Robinson.

“It means a lot for all of us at the Swan Agency to be able to be the first donors to what will be an amazing initiative to benefit community members needing affordable housing,” said the agency’s owner, Kim Swan. “Seed money for research, engineering, legal work, etc., is important at the beginning of projects like this and we hope our donation will spur on others who truly care about the local housing challenges to follow suit.”

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