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South shore redevelopment: 65-foot height limits upheld

The sky is not the limit.

This was the message sent by the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission on Wednesday as commissioners adhered strictly to their ordinance governing the allowed height along the south shore of Lake Bemidji.

No building shall have a point higher than 65 feet, commissioners said.

The city of Bemidji presented its Planned Unit Development for the 141.5-acre south shore for a public hearing and consideration. Included in the PUD are the already permitted Bemidji Regional Event Center, and a plan for a mixed use of commercial and residential properties.

But the city of Bemidji, represented by Widseth Smith Nolting's Paul Richards and Community Development Director Rita Albrecht, had plans for buildings above the 65-foot height limit in the south shore area.

Richards explained that the city was planning to have buildings with sloped roofs and other visual enhancements that would reach above 65 feet only to be more eye-appealing.

"We're trying to create some variation and some appeal," Richards said.

Also, he noted, the soil does not allow for the construction of underground parking facilities, which would be most desirable.

"For a lot of buildings (parking) is underground," he said. "We can't do that here."

But the JPC held steadfast to its ordinance. In an informal vote, just one commissioner, Matthew Dyrdahl, was in favor of considering the requested 80-foot allowance.

"A 65-foot height is a visual that we wanted aesthetically for this area," said commissioner Janice Moberg. "I think a height limit's a height limit."

"Sixty-five was hard for me to accept anyways," said commissioner Nicki Lemmers.

Commissioners also set the number for maximum allowed dwelling units at 350, with a maximum of 150 units on "Lot 15" on the eastern side of the development. Lot 15 is planned to be strictly residential development for multi-family residences.

While the JPC has traditionally held public hearings and then taken action to recommend either approval or denial of a plan for the Joint Planning Board, Wednesday's meeting was a bit different.

The JPC held the public hearing and discussed the recommendations - but the complexity of the south shore project prompted joint planning staff to suggest a different process.

The JPC took informal votes on the multiple issues - including density, height, permitted uses and others - that need to be addressed as part of its review. The suggested recommendations on those issues will be compiled according to the JPC's wishes and brought back to the planning commission in June for adoption.

Once adopted, the recommendation will go before the Joint Planning Board for review.

Six individuals addressed commissioners during the public hearing, listing concerns ranging from safety along ponds and wetlands, light and noise pollution, and traffic. Commissioners took their comments into consideration while discussing the issues upon which their recommendation will be made.