The Bar Harbor Municipal Building on Cottage Street. Photo taken July 17, 2018. Credit: Bill Trotter

Bar Harbor voters on Tuesday approved a zoning change for a shorefront marine museum but rejected a proposal to allow recreational marijuana stores in town.

The Oceanarium, located on a 19-acre shorefront property on Route 3, was purchased in January 2021 by a new not-for-profit organization that wants to make changes to the property. It had been grandfathered in a residential zone, but it could not expand or change the footprint of its buildings unless the zoning was changed.

By getting voter approval to change the zoning from residential to marine research, the Oceanarium and Education Center can now raise the height of one of its buildings so it can hang a whale skeleton from the ceiling, above the heads of visitors. That, and other possible building changes, would be made this coming winter and be in place for the 2023 tourist season, Oceanarium officials have said.

The vote to change the zoning for the Oceanarium, which has been closed since 2019, was approved by a wide margin, 1281 to 131. A proposed ordinance to allow retail pot shops lost by fewer than 200 votes, 804 to 615.

The proposal to allow retail marijuana stores was the result of a citizen’s initiative. The proposal would have limited the town to issuing only two retail recreational marijuana licenses, and the stores with those licenses would only have been allowed in retail zones. The stores also would not have been allowed within certain distances of schools (including College of the Atlantic) Mount Desert Island Hospital, religious buildings, daycares and any other marijuana store.

In contested elections, Lilea Simis and Tyson Starling were elected to 3-year terms on the school board, with William Hodgdon losing by 13 votes to Starling.

Julie Berberian, Bob Chaplin, Louise Lopez, Eben Salvatore and Jeffery Young were all elected to five available seats on the town’s warrant committee while Cara Ryan fell short, losing by more than 200 votes to the fifth-place candidate.

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....