BAR HARBOR — Five candidates vying for two town council seats presented their views on several major issues during a forum sponsored by the Mount Desert Islander on Tuesday.
Over the course of an hour-and-a-half, incumbent town councilor Paul Paradis and candidates Dessa Dancy, Matt Horton, Jay Riley and Christopher Walsh grappled with questions concerning the economic future of Bar Harbor, the international ferry terminal, and the Northeast Creek workforce housing bond issue.
On the whole, the candidates presented themselves as articulate, prepared, and schooled on the issues. While divergent points of view emerged over the course of the forum, all of the candidates demonstrated a genuine concern for the future of the town and the wellbeing of its citizens.
The first question of the night concerned the ferry terminal, which is in jeopardy of losing its grandfathered zoning status because the CAT ferry is sitting idle this year. Town meeting voters on June 8 will decide whether to rezone the area from Shoreland residential to Shoreland commercial.
Mr. Paradis, who put forward the ordinance change as a town councilor, voiced clear support for the measure, stating that “We have a better chance of saving it (the terminal) with this change than without it.” Mr. Riley agreed with him.
Ms. Dancy, however, came out square against the proposal. While she favors saving the use of the ferry terminal, she is concerned that allowing commercial uses in the area could lead to the property being turned into a hotel. “As soon as it becomes commercial and they choose to sell it, we have no more control over what happens to that land,” she said.
Mr. Walsh also is against the zoning change. Allowing commercial uses on the property would inevitably spark a bidding war between the town’s two largest hoteliers, he said, for ownership of one of the last available waterfront properties in town. “I think it would be lost to Bar Harbor forever,” he said.
Mr. Horton is in favor of the change. The entire area is commercial and it makes sense to zone it as such, Mr. Horton said. If the zoning change were to result in the property going up for sale and a hotelier bought it, Mr. Horton said, then the town would have to accept that. “I don’t see where government has a role in standing in the way of what Bay Ferries does with the property,” he said.
On the question of how to ensure a sustainable economy, candidates also offered a range of views.
For a vibrant economic future, Mr. Riley said, the town council should focus on reducing regulations. “The more we regulate things, the more expensive it gets to live here,” he said.
Mr. Horton also came down on the growing body of regulations in Bar Harbor, as well as the permitting process, stating that the effect of excessive measures has created an environment where only large developers can afford to do business here. “I think we should get the government off the backs of the people,” he said, and treat people in a customer-service fashion.
Ms. Dancy said that while she believes the business climate should be friendlier, “you can’t just keep growing bigger and bigger. That will destroy us.” The focus, she said, needs to be on how to best support farmers, fisherman, institutions, and year-round, locally owned businesses, while also protecting natural resources.
Mr. Walsh also spoke of natural resources, saying that “Bar Harbor has the opportunity to be one of the most ecologically friendly communities on the eastern seaboard” and that the town should advertise itself as such.
Mr. Paradis favors simplifying regulations. “We need to make it easier for small businesses and small entrepreneurs to locate here and to live here with their families,” he said.
As far as their top priority if elected, each candidate also presented unique views.
Mr. Walsh said that he would represent the average working person, a representation that he feels is lacking. “It’s time to bring the town council back down to worrying about what the people think,” he said.
Mr. Paradis said he would continue refining cruise ship operations, working toward a complete solution for the Route 3 reconstruction project, and focusing on creating as efficient a budget as possible each year. “That, above all, is my priority,” he said.
Ms. Dancy said that her main focus would be on looking at the full cost of proposals, and on the impact on natural resources. She also said that she is very concerned that voters are not receiving enough information about proposed changes, and that proposed changes are being put together too quickly. This year, she said, “The land use ordinances have been assembled in a helter-skelter way that opens the town up to large-scale development in many areas,” she said.
Mr. Horton said that he feels it is his calling to serve on the council, and that he has missed doing so over the past five years, since his last term ended. “I have had an interest in government since I was a small boy,” he said. If elected, he would focus on the Route 3 project, sound economic development policies, and creating a friendlier attitude toward business, he said.
Mr. Riley said he would work to simplify processes, both for business owners and homeowners. “We should be content with what we have, he said, “and not try to control what each of our neighbors is going to do.”
The forum was televised on local access cable channel 7 and will run again over the next week or so.
BAR HARBOR — A “meet the candidates” night is scheduled for Thursday, June 3, at the Town Hill Village Improvement Society community hall. The event is set for 7 p.m., and all of the candidates have been invited to participate. The atmosphere is informal, allowing residents to get to know the people running for office and for the candidates to hear questions and local concerns. The event is sponsored by the Town Hill VIS.
For more political news, pick up a copy of the Mount Desert Islander.