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JPB recoils at Takhar meeting

Do not meet with Harry Takhar without legal representation present.

This was the message from the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board to Mel Milender, its zoning administrator.

Nancy Erickson, a JPB member and Bemidji city councilor, said Takhar himself is not the issue, but the pending lawsuit was concerning.

"It wouldn't matter who the person is," she said. "I'm no lawyer - it just seems safer."

Takhar in November was denied a conditional use permit by the JPB that would have authorized him to operate Justice Enterprises L.L.C. out of a private home at 931 Oak Hills Road S.E.

Takhar then initiated a lawsuit against the JPB, Milender said.

He has since requested a meeting with Milender for this week to try to come up with an acceptable resolution that would eliminate the need for a lawsuit, Milender said.

Milender asked for advice from the JPB's attorney, Linda Thompson with Kennedy and Graven in Minneapolis, and was told it would be OK to meet with Takhar.

But several members of the JPB on Wednesday balked at the idea Wednesday.

JPB member Richard Lehmann, the mayor of Bemidji, told Miledner he would be against the meeting unless legal representation was present.

"I just think legal counsel is the best way to protect ourselves," Lehmann said.

Milender said he would follow the JPB's direction, but explained that he would have to continue to have some communication with Takhar as the Pinnacle Shoppes outlet mall project moves forward.

The matter came up at the tail end of the JPB meeting on Wednesday when JPB member Becky Livermore of Bemidji Township said she was asked about the status of Takhar's offices during the township's annual meeting Tuesday night.

Miledner said the office remains at the residence on Oak Hills Road Southeast as the lawsuit is pending.

Sparkling Waters

The JPB approved a request from Doug Howe for three variances that would allow for the renovation of the former Bonanza building.

Doug and Reva Howe built the restaurant as a Mr. Steak franchisee in 1977 and operated it until 1985, when they sold it to Kathy Guess. Guess ran the business as a Bonanza restaurant until closing on Jan. 1.

Now the Howes are in the process of buying the business back and plan to renovate the building to accommodate an upscale, two-story eatery to be named Sparkling Waters Restaurant.

The JPB authorized the three variances - side setback, front setback and impervious surface - under the following conditions:

-- Signage will be lowered and landscaped to provide a better visual experience along waterway and roadways.

-- Additional green space shall be added by landscaping the southeast end and entrance of the parking lot, with a goal of a maximum of 80 percent impervious surface without sacrificing parking spaces or traffic flow.

-- Parking spaces along the east side of lot should be secured via easement from adjoining property.

-- There shall be no additional encroachment toward the front yard.

-- Complete landscape plan shall be submitted with request for a building permit.

-- The trash collection area should be enclosed and landscaped.