BANGOR (AP) – Real estate prices on Mount Desert Island have escalated to the point where local residents fear that the viability of year-round communities is at risk.

Land and home prices have climbed steadily along the entire Maine coast, but Mount Desert Island is in a particularly tight situation because of the scarcity of land for new development.

Longtime real estate agents say prices are so high that even high-income Mainers are locked out of the market. They say land owners whose properties aren’t for sale are being approached by buyers willing to pay whatever it takes to get their own chunk of property.

“A lot of people have become very concerned about the change in our neighborhoods,” said real estate agent Betty Briar of Bar Harbor. “What used to be a neighborhood is now just somebody buying up homes for investment, so it changes the entire nature of the neighborhood.”

Mount Desert Island is the home to Acadia National Park, which takes up roughly half of the island. The island comprises the towns of Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert and Tremont.

Real estate statistics for the island alone are not available, but home sellers say the median home price in Hancock County, at $147,000, would be considered a bargain price on the island. Houses listed for sale this week include only two that are close to that price, at $154,900 and $169,000.

Jane Pooler, a real estate agent in Southwest Harbor, said she sold a condominium in Bass Harbor, a village in Tremont, for $250,000 in 1998. She recently closed on another condo in the same complex for $495,000.

Pooler said a 3-acre lot in a subdivision in Somesville, the picturesque village in the town of Mount Desert, sold for $45,000 in 1995. Today the price is $150,000.

The Seawall Road in Southwest Harbor was occupied primarily by year-round residents a few years ago. Today, most of the homes are owned by out-of-state residents for summer homes, Pooler said.

“Southwest Harbor and Tremont used to be called the Quietside,” Pooler said. “It’s not quiet anymore. They wanted them to come and they have come. Now it’s not a matter of how much it is, but where you can find it.”

Concerned island residents have been holding community forums for a year to find ways to slow the trend.

Ron Beard of Bar Harbor, a facilitator for the group MDI Tomorrow, said year-round island residents are worried that if the real estate continue to escalate, the people who work in those towns eventually won’t be able to live there.

And if that happens, the towns will lack the people needed to sustain a vibrant year-round community for church groups, fire departments, school projects and library boards, he said.

“We might have them today, but I think as this trend continues, we’re in danger of losing tomorrow’s volunteers,” Beard said.

Island residents are also concerned that as the year-round population continues to be displaced by summer residents, the quality of life on the island will suffer. They fear that in time the quaint villages that attract summer visitors and residents no longer will exist.

“It’s not that we don’t want wonderful visitors to live here,” Beard said, “but somehow we have to take charge of making sure there are houses affordable to working people.”

AP-ES-07-03-03 0919EDT

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