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Petition presented against North Lake Irving housing plan

Residents along North Lake Irving are vocally opposing a plan to construct rental housing for low- and middle-income families.

Terry and Miriam Smart, 514 Woodland Ave. S.W., appeared before the Bemidji City Council during Monday's meeting and presented a petition from area residents who oppose a plan for the construction of low-income rental housing on the east side of Park Avenue between Woodland Avenue and Oak Street.

Terry Smart said existing residents should have been notified of the plans and said one of the parcels along Park Avenue has already been designated for park land.

"This land was earmarked for parks," he said.

Terry Smart also said that 30 percent of the neighborhood already is rental housing.

He said it now is a safe neighborhood and he takes his grandchildren for walks in the area.

"I don't want to lose that," he said.

Mayor Richard Lehmann told the Smarts that the Headwaters Housing Development Corporation has discussed the potential for creating low- and middle-income housing in the area, but no formal plan has been submitted.

City Attorney Al Felix said the City Council in September passed a resolution requesting conveyance of tax-forfeited property (three parcels in the area) that would be ideal for moderate-income housing.

The parcel that had been dedicated for park land will need to be reclassified if the housing plan moves forward, Felix said.

Lehmann said if a formal plan is presented, it would go through the normal planning process and area residents would be notified.

The petition presented by the Smarts contained 50 signatures from area residents who opposed the plan for low-income housing.

In a letter to the City Council, Terry Smart wrote that the other cities such as Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park, Minn., have both utilized plans that situated low-income housing in one area and it has not worked.

"Today Brooklyn Center is the largest drug capital for its size in the nation because of this," Terry Smart wrote.

A similar plan in New York City failed after three to six months, he said.

"The best thing that can be done with street people if they are from Bemidji is to put them in a so-called poor farm away from liquor and drugs," Terry Smart wrote. "If they are from elsewhere, a ticket to their hometown (where) family and friends can help them."

He also encouraged the City Council to consider utilizing the vacant Gilfillan Center for housing.

"Rent that for a year and see if problems arise," he wrote.

Marion Janikowski, 229 Mississippi Ave. S.W., signed the petition and submitted a letter asking the City Council to consider interspersing rental units throughout the city as bunching low-income housing together in one place often gives its residents the feeling of being less worthy than others or being lower class.

"Communities are usually better off when there is a diverse mixture of upper-income, middle-income and low-income people, and no discrimination of race or economic status," she wrote.