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Bemidji City Council: Support for housing project

Bemidji City Councilor Barb Meuers acknowledged that there are unknowns surrounding a plan for a 20-unit supportive housing project in Bemidji.

But that wouldn't keep her from supporting the project.

There are a lot of "ifs" about the event center, too, she said.

Meuers, speaking during Monday's Bemidji City Council meeting, voiced her support of the plan submitted by the Headwaters Housing Development Corporation.

The HHDC plans to construct the housing on five acres of land north of the Bi-County CAP office on 15th Street Northwest.

However, in order to meet zoning requirements, a road would need to be constructed from 15th Street to 23rd Street - and 23rd Street would need to be constructed to serve a northern portion of land owned by the Beltrami County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Could the city help?

Tim Flathers, community development director with the HHDC, asked the City Council to dedicate $165,000 to build a temporary road and improve 23rd Street.

"I think this is a really minute amount (of money) for a really good cause," Meuers said.

The council agreed, voting 6-0 to fund the HHDC's request through dollars in the city's UDAG fund, a pot of money typically reserved for economic development. Councilor Jerry Downs was absent.

"It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet a rather substantial need in the community," Flathers said.

The HHDC has $4 million in funding available. But, it needed a site.

The HRA, according to Flathers, stepped up and agreed to partner. The HRA will take ownership of the project once it is complete, which is a requirement due to it being financed through state bonds.

The HRA also provided the building site.

But the road issues proved to be a problem. It has been estimated, according to Flathers, that the temporary road heading north from 15th to 23rd streets will cost about $118,000, and the improvements to 23rd Street will cost about $47,000.

Flathers met with representatives of the Bemidji area joint planning office and Public Works Director/City Engineer Craig Gray, who said a temporary road was possible, but it would only last 8-10 years.

With the council's approval, it guarantees that the project will be constructed.

"This is a great step in the right direction," said Councilor Kevin Waldhausen.

The only concerns voiced came from Councilor Greg Negard, who did ultimately vote in favor of the motion.

'The project is very good; I love the project and I know there is a need," Negard said.

But, he was worried about the unknowns involving the temporary road and not knowing what was going to end up being built on the northern section of land.

"We don't know where we are in 10 years," said Negard, also noting that the city is facing tough economic decisions as it anticipates further cuts to Local Government Aid.

New street name?

The council also voted 5-1 in favor of obtaining a tally of residents along Irvingside Lane Southwest about whether they would like to change the name of their street.

Bemidji resident Don Schmeckpeper, who lives on South Lake Irving Drive Southwest, had requested the council to consider changing Irvingside to Aragon Lane Southwest.

His reasons, according to the city, is that there are too many Bemidji roads named Irving, that residences there are located in the Aragon Plat, and the Aragon Ballroom used to be located in the area.

Four properties are located on Irvingside.

The council voted to direct staff to tally residents about whether they want a new street name. The response must be a unanimous "yes" to prompt the council to consider the name change, according to the motion passed Monday night.

Lehmann voted against the motion.