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Bemidji jewelry store gets OK to construct new building

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BEMIDJI - Ken K. Thompson Jewelry will be allowed to build as planned.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board Friday voted 5-0 to grant the business a 20-foot variance that would allow it to build a new standalone building at the corner of Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest and Ridgeway Avenue Northwest across from Perkins. The variance will allow the building to be built 10 feet from the property line along Ridgeway Avenue.

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"I don't see this as being unique to that neighborhood. I think that this variance is appropriate," said board member Dave Larson, the mayor of Bemidji.

The new building, which will relocate the downtown Ken K. Thompson site, will be set back about 23 feet from the intersection, and allow for visibility at the intersection. Mayana Rice, the planning administrator for the joint planning office, said the distance would be comparable to that of Perkins.

The planning board decision differed from the recommendation given by the joint planning commission Thursday evening. Then, the commission voted 8-3 against the request but recommended on a 9-2 vote to allow for a 10-foot setback along Ridgeway and a 7.5-foot setback from Citizens State Bank Midwest.

Clark Chambers, chairman of the planning board, said he believed the planning commission did its job in examining the ordinance.

"I think what they did last night was appropriate. They did the heavy lifting," he said.

Board member Ron Johnson, who abstained from the vote because his wife, Carol, is employed by Ken K. Thompson Jewelry, said the planning commission should, as it did, examine the rules and ordinances in considering its recommendation, but that the planning board should consider additional aspects, such as the economics, community improvement and the applicant itself.

Ken K. Thompson, a fourth-generation local company, began in 1935 as a one-room watch-repair shop.

"A business that was started before any of us were even alive," Johnson said.

The variance was requested after the owners learned that the property is encumbered by two 30-foot front yard setbacks, one along Paul Bunyan and one along Ridgeway. They had already developed building plans and submitted them to the city of Bemidji Building Department seeking a permit.

The interpretation of the ordinance was debated, however, in that the zoning ordinance does not specifically state that a corner lot has two front yard setbacks. Board member Jan Heuer voted in favor of the motion but said she did not believe a variance was even required since the ordinance does not clearly state that restriction.

"We should say what we mean and mean what we say," she said. "If we intend something different, then we need to write something different. But in the meantime this is what we have to follow."

Board members also noted that numerous neighborhood businesses support the project, which includes closure of two driveway accesses along Ridgeway and increase of green space.

"I think it would be a wonderful addition," said board member Jim Thompson. "This would certainly be an improvement."

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