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Land sale process to change: Proposal review committee to be formal city body

BEMIDJI - Bemidji City Councilors want to formalize the process development proposals go through before they reach the full council.

They met Monday night to talk about the development review process, a wide-ranging discussion that included determining what south shore land is worth and if certain parts of land sale negotiations should be open to the public.

Currently, initial development proposals for city-owned land go to Greater Bemidji, the Headwaters Regional Development Commission or city manager John Chattin. When the proposal is ready, it would go before the proposal review committee, according to a memo written by Chattin.

That informal committee includes city staff and two or three city councilors. It then would either request additional information or make a recommendation to the Bemidji Economic Development Authority, which comprises city councilors and makes final decisions on land sales.

But councilors Monday indicated they would like to appoint members to the proposal review committee, making it a formal body that must be subject to open meeting laws. That means its meeting dates will be posted ahead of time.

Three councilors -- Mayor Rita Albrecht, Jim Thompson and Nancy Erickson -- are slated to sit on the committee along with staff and three community members.

Chattin had some concerns about negotiating land offers publicly in the committee meeting.

"Ideally...some of that should be worked out before it makes it to proposal review committee," Chattin said. Albrecht added they should "trust staff to visit with developers and have a good sense of what our expectations are for sale price."

"I think the council wants to act in an ethical manner and wants to be open and transparent," Albrecht said earlier in the meeting. "But the nature of a development proposal process is that developers often want to float an idea without it being splashed on the radio or in the paper."

The council also established some parameters they would like staff to consider when developers come to them with proposed projects. That included no deferred payments, as Zorbaz on the Lake founder Tom Hanson proposed earlier this month to councilors.

Chattin said when developers contact him, they don't necessarily have a full proposal to present. He said it would be helpful to be able to "tell them right up front, 'Don't bother to do this, or don't bother to do that, because you won't even get to the proposal review committee.'"

Councilor Roger Hellquist said it would help "take away a lot of that gray area."

The council also wants an update on what south shore land is worth. City attorney Al Felix said he hopes to have more information from the Beltrami County assessor's office soon.

Councilor Reed Olson said he would be interested to know what the land is valued at now compared to when the last assessment was done a few years ago.

"It might have dipped, but it's probably creeping back up," Olson said. "So we might surprised to find that those 2009 estimates are pretty close to 2014 estimates."

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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