Due to a severe lack of affordable housing, Bar Harbor’s Town Council is allowing the local YMCA to pursue use of a recreational vehicle as seasonal employee housing.
But the unanimous council vote doesn’t mean the Mount Desert Island Y will be allowed to let an employee live in a camper behind the building this summer, when millions of tourists visit Bar Harbor and housing is most scarce.
The town’s design review committee and code enforcement officer have to approve the Y’s application. Because the town owns the land on Park Street where the Y is located — and leases it to the Y for $1 a year — the council as the de facto landowner has to give the Y permission to apply in order for the design review board and code enforcement officer to consider it.
The request comes at a time of year when employers in Bar Harbor and elsewhere on Mount Desert Island struggle to fill seasonal positions because of the lack of affordable housing within commuting distance. Officials with Acadia National Park, The Jackson Laboratory, Downeast Transportation and other businesses and organizations have said the lack of local available housing is one of the biggest hurdles they face in hiring people.
Bar Harbor has allowed people to use RVs as temporary housing in the past, but the Y’s request might be the first time an employer has sought town approval to use an RV as summer employee housing. The Y has secured an RV for whichever employee would be willing to sleep in it.
Ann Tikkanen, the executive director of the Y, said that having the RV to use as housing will help the Y fill counselor positions for its summer camps. The counselors tend to be around 18 to 20 years old, she said, and she has five positions to fill.
“Last summer was really tough [for finding housing],” she told the council. “We hired a lot of very young people and it was very, very difficult.”
Members of the council said they had concerns about setting a precedent, but expressed sympathy with the Y’s situation.
“I know what you’re going through,” Joe Minutolo, who co-owns a popular Bar Harbor bike sales and rental shop, told Tikkanen. “It’s brutal.”
Councilor Jill Goldthwait said that the site behind the Y where the RV would be located is well-suited for it because it is not highly visible and there are no immediate neighbors on the same block. As with past applications that the town has approved to use RV’s as temporary housing, the RV will have to be connected to an approved wastewater disposal system and to a permanent electrical power source other than a simple extension cord.
Goldthwait also suggested that the town not allow the RV to have external lights, a fire pit and be driven around while it is being used for housing. The town could restrict the RV for use by only one person or perhaps a couple, she said.
“I think in this particular case, it’s a perfect location for it,” Goldthwait said. “There are a whole lot of parents depending on this Y camp to operate so they can go to work this summer.”