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Business and Economy

Bar Harbor passes new limits on vacation rentals as housing grows more expensive

Virus Outbreak Maine Daily Life
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
Visitors gather at a waterfront park, Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Bar Harbor, Maine. Gov. Janet Mills is is eliminating most outdoor distancing requirements imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic as the tourism season begins to kick into gear.

Voters in Bar Harbor have passed a new ordinance restricting the number of vacation rentals in town.

Under the new rule, short-term rental units that are not occupied by the owner will be capped at 9% of the total units in town, with minimum length of stay of four nights. Owner-occupied rentals will be allowed with fewer restrictions.

Rentals that are currently registered with the town may continue operating, as long as they maintain their registration every year.

"We've seen quite a stream of folks coming in over the past few weeks to file registrations in advance of the ordinance taking effect, which would be on Dec. 2," said Bar Harbor Assistant Planner Steve Fuller.

The vote comes as housing prices continue to climb steeply in the region — and as local officials place some of the blame on a growing number of houses being converted into short-term rental properties. Fuller said many businesses are now lamenting the lack of any available housing options for employees.

"Any number of places — how important it is for them that the folks that work there have places to choose from, here in Bar Harbor," he said. "And that they're not having to commute half an hour, 45 minutes, an hour off-island to get here."

Meanwhile, some residents have argued that rental properties are a crucial source of income. The number of registered units in town has grown from more than 400 two years ago to about 640 today, with another 150 properties in the application process.

The town is asking rental owners to register their current units as soon as possible.