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Bemidji City Council: DDA parking design upheld despite protest

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News Bemidji, 56619
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Lloyd Lind said he simply couldn't understand it.

Why would anyone take away parking spaces from downtown when that has long been the downtown's top concern, he asked.

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"You are obligated, I would think, to get as many parking spaces as you can," Lind told the Bemidji City Council Monday night.

Lind appealed to the City Council to reverse its January decision supporting a design of Parking Lot 3 that would facilitate parallel parking with two lanes of traffic, add green space - and eliminate parking spaces.

Lot 3, located on Third Street Northwest between Harmony Natural Foods Co-op and Morell's Trading Post, is scheduled to be reconstructed this summer.

The design approved earlier this year was the one advocated by the Downtown Development Authority, which oversees the city's downtown parking lots.

"The No. 1 reason was to try to figure out a way to slow down traffic and make it a safer parking lot," DDA President Mitch Rautio said, advocating for the already approved design.

The DDA began planning for the project in the fall, considering several options before supporting a design that has 46 parallel parking spots.

The existing layout utilizes diagonal parking spots, but does not meet engineering requirements.

Rautio said the existing parking lot creates unsafe features due to faster traffic.

Lind, who operates Lloyd's Furniture on Third Street, said he and other surrounding business owners do not want to lose parking and would prefer to keep diagonal parking as it is easier for older individuals to navigate.

"We don't want to give up one space," Lind said.

The current lot has room for 62 vehicles. The design approved has 46 spaces, and an alternate design presented by Lind has diagonal parking with 52 spaces.

"We just feel that it's kind of a no-brainer," Lind said.

The council, ultimately, did not agree.

After taking comment from business representatives, the council opted to not reverse its earlier decision.

However, Councilor Barb Meuers sided with Lind. She made a motion, which ultimately failed due to a lack of a second, to reverse the decision and go with Lind's preferred design.

She wondered what the council will do when the DDA and downtown businesses began complaining, again, about the lack of parking downtown.

All she has ever heard from the downtown is that there is a lack of parking, Meuers said.

Councilor Roger Hellquist, who serves as the council representative on the DDA, said he, too, would like to preserve the existing parking and keep diagonal parking.

But, he understood the goals of the DDA, Hellquist said.

The Lot 3 plans were designed to meet the ideals of the recent RDG Planning & Design downtown study, which advocated for more green space, walkability and another meeting place for downtown events.

The DDA in response has adopted a plan for meeting some of the RDG goals throughout the next 10 to 20 years - and the Lot 3 redesign was meant to begin that process, Hellquist noted.

"This is something we can do immediately," Hellquist said.

Mayor Richard Lehmann noted that the council already made the decision on Lot 3 earlier this year. He stressed that Monday's discussion was not meant to be a public hearing.

Stating that "decisions are made by the people who show up," he asked for a display of hands from attending business owners concerning the two proposed designs.

By Lehmann's count, 11 were in favor of the already approved design and six were in favor of the alternate design.

But Meuers and Councilor Greg Negard said that was not a fair assessment.

Lind collected signatures in support of his opposition to the DDA plan, Meuers said.

"We have to vote what we feel is best for the city of Bemidji," Negard said.

Ade Mann, who operates Morell's Trading Post, also objected to Lehmann's tally, telling the council that he and Lind were just a few representing a number of people.

"You're not comparing apples to apples," he said.

bwesley@bemidjipioneer.com

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Pioneer staff reports
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