In hopes of developing an approximately 50-acre property on Mount Desert Island into sorely-needed workforce housing, local supporters of the idea are looking for an act of Congress to make it happen.
Federal legislation enacted in the 1980s dictated that the parcel — which is owned by Acadia National Park but is not publicly accessible — can only be developed into a transfer station. But since that legislation was approved, the need for an island-wide transfer station has vanished while the need for workforce housing has soared.
Now, another vote by Congress is needed to develop that parcel for any other use. Sen. Angus King is planning to introduce legislation that, if approved, would enable Acadia National Park and other employers on MDI to build housing for their employees on the property, which is located in the Bar Harbor village of Town Hill.
“As Acadia’s visitation numbers continue to rise, the need for talented and dedicated park staff has never been more pressing – but a shortage of affordable housing presents a serious challenge,” King said. “We are engaged with the Department of Interior on how to best achieve that goal, and will continue to consult with a variety of stakeholders before introducing legislation.”
The current concept, which came out of conversations between the park and local officials, is to create access to the lot off Crooked Road and to transfer most of the lot to the Island Housing Trust, which would develop housing for use by people who work for local employers. Acadia would retain ownership of a portion of the property where housing would be built for its seasonal employees, according to the park.
More specific details about the project including how many housing units would be created haven’t been created yet because it’s still so early in the process, said Marla O’Byrne, executive director for the trust. Congressional approval could take a year or more, and the trust will become involved when that happens.
“We would be interested in working with partners to develop it into workforce housing,” she said.
The issue of exorbitant housing costs on MDI has hampered the ability of employers to find workers, especially during the busy summer tourist season, which has grown significantly in recent decades. Millions of visitors come to MDI and Acadia National Park each year, with the summer of 2021 being the busiest anyone can remember.
The demand for employee housing, combined with the use of many island homes as weekly vacation rentals and the ability of wealthy summer residents to pay top dollar for houses, has also made it very difficult for local residents with regular jobs to find places to live in MDI. The lack of housing, in turn, has made it difficult for local employers — ranging from The Jackson Laboratory to local restaurants — to find people to hire.
To help deal with this problem, Jackson Lab has bought some adjoining apartment complexes in recent years for use by its employees and is currently building employee apartments near its Bar Harbor campus at the intersection of Route 3 and Schooner Head Road.