South shore: Planning officials seek compromise between DNR, developer
Joint planning officials have asked for a compromise between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the developer of the Hampton Inn & Suites.
The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission and Joint Planning Board both held meetings Thursday night as they considered a request from The Edgewater Group to amend the Planned Unit Development for the south shore to include the already developed Hampton Inn and adjoining Green Mill restaurant.
The Edgewater Group, represented by Bemidji businessman Rich Siegert, requested the PUD amendment to easier allow for a new hotel development near the Hampton Inn.
Siegert noted that when the Edgewater Group decided to pursue further development, he met with three representatives from the city, one from the joint planning office and a civil engineer.
"These are the recommendations that came out of that committee," he said. "They are not just my ideas."
But the PUD request - which initially received a positive recommendation from the JPC in January - is opposed by a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hydrologist.
In a letter dated Feb. 9, Dan Thul stated that he had "strong concerns" that the PUD amendment would be inconsistent with the shoreline ordinance and the developer's agreement signed by Siegert, the city of Bemidji and DNR in 2002 prior to construction of the Hampton Inn and Green Mill.
The JPC Thursday evening discussed the issue, taking comments from both Thul and Siegert before recommending a plan for JPB consideration.
The JPB followed the JPC meeting with a quick, 10-minute meeting of its own, during which it voted 6-0 to direct joint planning staff to work with Siegert and Thul and develop a compromise.
There are three parcels involved in the request for the PUD amendment.
One contains the existing Hampton Inn/Green Mill. The current setback from Lake Bemidji for this parcel is 50 feet - and the development already is pushed back further from that at 71.6 feet.
Another parcel is a .33-acre parcel that had been requested by The Edgewater Group to have a 75-foot setback.
The other setback is for a 2.13-acre parcel that had been requested to have a 100-foot setback from Lake Bemidji.
The height allowances for the three parcels are somewhat less complicated.
The existing Hampton Inn/Green Mill has a height allowance of 60 feet.
The south shore PUD, however, allows for 85-foot-tall buildings - up to 65 feet of the building can be "occupiable" and 15 more feet can be used for peaked and sloped roofs and for mechanical needs such as air-conditioning units and elevator shafts.
In 2002, prior to construction of the Hampton Inn and Green Mill, a developer's agreement was signed between the city, developer and DNR. The flexibility agreement dictated the allowed density and height of development.
Thul referenced the existing, underlying zoning requirements for the area and said the PUD request by The Edgewater Ground were "inconsistent" with existing agreements and those zoning rules.
He was concerned, Thul said, about increased density too close to Lake Bemidji.
"I recommend you do not allow a 100-foot setback with a new hotel," he said.
Siegert, however, said the unusual lot shapes would make a 150-foot setback difficult for development.
With a 100-foot setback, he said, 59 percent of the lot would be buildable. With a 150-foot setback, less than 1 acre, or about 38,000 square feet, would be buildable.
"At that point, it really gets difficult," he said.
One of Siegert's reasons for seeking a lesser setback for the properties is that he wants the shoreline to be aesthetically pleasing.
If the greater setbacks are imposed, Siegert said, he may be required to place some parking between the shoreline and development.
But Thul said the joint planning ordinances did not allow for parking in setback areas.
So who's right? As it turns out, they both are.
A section in the zoning ordinance, 907, states that parking areas should not be located in setback zones. However, "if no alternatives exist," they can be located there.
"They can put them down there if they need them," said Mel Milender, the planning administrator for the joint planning office.
Siegert said the soil in the area would allow developers to dig 7 feet into the ground for some underground parking, but that would not be preferable because stairs would be required and it would be expensive.
"It is not a preferable way to develop this," he said.
JPC takes action
Both joint planning groups were advised by their attorney, Troy Gilchrist with Kennedy & Graven, to determine what outcome they wanted to see and having a plan developed that met those outcomes.
Thul advocated for a plan that would include a 150-foot setback and meet parking requirements by adding spaces to the Hampton Inn's existing parking lot.
Commission member Jim Humeniuk asked Thul if he had the ability or authorization to negotiate on behalf of the DNR so all parties could try to come to some common ground.
"I would be very resistant to negotiating a solution that would result in an 80-foot building set 100 feet back," Thul said. "Other than that, I really feel we can work everything out."
The JPC ultimately voted 6-3 to recommend to the JPC that the PUD amendment be approved with the following allowances:
- The parcel containing the Hampton Inn/Green Mill would have a 75-foot setback.
- The smaller, .33-acre parcel would have a 75-foot setback and a 60-foot height allowance to match that of the existing Hampton Inn.
- The larger, 2.13-acre parcel would have a 150-foot setback and get the 80-foot total height for development.
Commission members voting in favor of the recommendation were: Monty Eidem, Joe McKinnon, Kristi Miller, Janice Moberg and George Stowe. Opposed were commission members Matthew Dyrdahl, Humeniuk and Richard Slinkman.