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Takhar loses latest round in fight with Bemidji Township

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The battle between Harry Takhar and Bemidji Township continues.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend denial of a conditional use permit that would have allowed Takhar to operate offices of Justice Enterprises L.L.C. out of his home at 931 Oak Hills Road S.E.

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Joint Planning Commission member Richard Slinkman made the motion to deny the CUP, saying that any commercial activity in the neighborhood is not beneficial.

"It brings nothing positive," he said.

The vote does not actually deny the CUP; only the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board can approve or deny a CUP. The JPB next meets Nov. 14.

Takhar moved his offices into the home in the fall of 2006, and Bemidji Township learned that he had done so in January this year. The home is located in a single-family residential zone. It is also located right next to the site of the proposed Pinnacle Shoppes outlet mall, which Takhar is developing.

On the advice of its lawyer, Rebecca Anderson, Bemidji Township issued a cease and desist order against Takhar on Feb. 13, according to the planning report included in Thursday's agenda.

Takhar refused to vacate, saying that he did not know he needed a permit or that he could not operate his offices at his home, the planning report said.

The lawyers representing both sides of the lawsuit recommended that Takhar be allowed to submit a request for an after-the-fact CUP, according to Mil Milender, the township's zoning administrator.

"What you have to deal with is whether or not this is appropriate for a conditional use permit," Milender said. "I still believe commercial offices in a residential zone is an incorrect application of the zoning regulations."

Takhar was out of town and did not attend Thursday's meeting. Bob Wallner, who spoke on Takhar's behalf, told the Joint Planning Commission that Takhar would be in favor of a CUP that had a restricted time limit such as 18 months or two years.

"We're trying to propose a resolution that would resolve all this litigation," Wallner said.

Takhar would prefer to have his office located in the Pinnacle Shoppes area, he said.

"Once Mr. Takhar gets going on the commercial building next door, he'd rather have his office there," Wallner said.

Joint Planning Commission Chair Clark Chambers said the JPB is discussing the possibility of enacting an interim use permit, but now it is not an option.

Wallner responded that he would be willing to waive the 60-day rule in which an entity must take action on a request for such an option to be considered.

Milender told the Joint Planning Commission that it first needed to consider if commercial activities in a residential area was a permitted use.

"If it's prohibited, you don't really have authorization to issue a use permit of any kind," he said.

Takhar did send a letter to the Joint Planning Commission in which he said his activities at the home do not impact the neighborhood.

"I have no one that travels to his home for business purposes, no noise, no signs, no lights, not unusual traffic of any kind other than my 'personal staff' involved in assisting me with my personal day-to-day activities due to my extension travels," Takhar wrote.

Another concern that Milender mentioned was that Takhar was buying up lots in the neighborhood. Takhar has expressed an interest in developing multiple-family homes in the area, even though it is not in the area to be annexed into the city of Bemidji and does not have residential sewer or water, Milender said.

Marlo Winans, who lives in the neighborhood, spoke against the CUP.

"I think you guys got to be very careful about what you do here," he said. "You don't want to give them an opening."

The Bemidji Township board also sent a letter to the Joint Planning Commission and JPB requesting its support in denying the CUP application. Eight reasons were listed.

The Bemidji Township lawsuit against Takhar now is scheduled for a court trial on Jan. 17, 2008, in Cass County court before Judge John P. Smith. Previous judges assigned to the case through Beltrami County were recused.

Wallner said following Thursday's meeting that the next step will be appearing before the JPB on Nov. 14 to request the CUP.

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