A man walks past a 'for rent' sign posted in a window in downtown Bar Harbor in this September 2020 file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Voters in Bar Harbor on Tuesday approved a major proposal to regulate vacation rental housing in town, which many have said has contributed to high local housing and real estate costs that have pushed many young working families out.

Voters also approved raising $3 million to plan, design and seek permitting for a proposed major redesign project at the town’s K-8 school.

By a 1260-840 tally, voters agreed to create two categories of vacation rentals — one for rentals at an owner’s primary residence that would have a minimum 2-night stay, and another for rentals at non-owner occupied residences that would have a minimum 4-night stay.

By the same vote, the town restricted non-owner occupied vacation rentals to zones that currently allow commercial and lodging activities.

As part of that same proposal, voters also established a limit on the number of non-owner occupied vacation rental units at 9 percent of the town’s housing stock and banned the transfer of licenses for such rental units to new owners when those properties are sold. With the transferability ban, the town hopes over time to reduce the number of non-owner occupied vacation rentals properties in Bar Harbor, which according to the weekly Mount Desert Islander newspaper is now more than 25 percent.

For the school renovation project, after the town completes the initial planning phase, voters will have to go to the polls again — on a date not yet determined — to decide whether to move ahead with making significant changes to Conners Emerson School, including demolishing one of its two buildings and constructing a major addition on the other.

The construction project likely would cost in excess of $35 million, in addition to the $3 million that voters approved Tuesday.

Conners Emerson School, which has approximately 350 students, occupies two buildings that date back to the 1950s. Though many details still have to be worked out, town and school officials expect the project to involve the demolition and removal of the 28,000 square-foot Conners building, which currently houses younger students, and building a new 45,000-plus square-foot addition onto the Emerson building so that all grades would be housed in a single building for the first time.

The project also would involve a major overhaul to the existing Emerson building by installing an entirely new heating and ventilation system, and an upgraded electrical system to allow solar panels to be installed on the roof.

The 11-acre property also would be redone with a new vehicle access and parking scheme and new areas designed for outdoor classes.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....