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Pioneer Editorial: Planning for new 'Greater Bemidji Area'

No one in local government 10 years ago would have thought it possible that the city of Bemidji and adjoining townships would ever begin thinking as a community, rather than as individual, distinct turf-protectors.

Well, that day has come, at least with the city and two of those townships.

At the second of two open houses last week, thoughtful comments were taken on a "Greater Bemidji Area" land use plan and zoning ordinance. But the important part is that there were no hordes of opponents, no cries city sprawl or of lost property tax base.

Two years ago, elected officials in Bemidji and in Bemidji and Northern townships started the process with agreements for orderly annexation and joint powers planning. A committee they appointed has been meeting twice a month since then to draft a land use plan and common zoning ordinance, including subdivision regulations and shoreland management controls, to cover all three jurisdictions, and that's what the open house previewed last week.

It went well, and officials believe that residents are joining officials in starting to think of the Greater Bemidji Area, not the city versus the townships. It's encouraging for a number of reasons, especially since the eventual place we'll reach in 15 years will have a wide-reaching community, all with an equal stake on guiding our future.

The land use plan, which will now be reviewed at a joint Aug. 23 meeting of elected officials from the three jurisdictions, would have us agree to a vision of what our "new city" will look like:

E A healthy community, successfully balancing regional center amenities and small-town beauty and character.

E A vibrant economic center recognized for its innovation, creativity and knowledge.

E A social, cultural, recreational, medical and educational magnet.

E An embracing, culturally diverse community.

E A community that protects its natural environment.

E A people committed to shared prosperity and long-term community stewardship.

E The star of the north, a national model of community success.

And, the land use plan notes, among the key overall values and goals needed to reach that vision is that the new Greater Bemidji Area be viewed as a single community, and that we must maintain and enhance our "north woods character" as a vital component of our community development and redevelopment.

The proposed land use plan and zoning ordinance appear to be taking us in that direction, judging by community acceptance so far. Once they take effect Jan. 1, both will be constantly revisited to ensure that we stay on the right track.

Those who have toiled to get us this far need to be thanked for their work, and encouraged to keep us on task.