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Chattin implores planning commission to change height limit of 65 feet on south shore development

John Chattin implored the planning commission Thursday night to reconsider its previous votes on the height allowance within the south shore redevelopment area.

Chattin, the Bemidji city manager, asked the Greater Bemidji Joint Planning Board to consider allowing housing development to reach as high as 80 feet, rather than the 65 feet currently allowed.

"We're all after the same thing," Chattin said, "an aesthetically pleasing development that is an asset to our community.

The JPC did not reach a decision on the height issue, voting 5-5 on whether that limit should be raised. The Joint Planning Board will have to make the final determination next month.

The JPC was considering its final recommendations for the Planned Unit Development of the south shore development, a 141.5-acre development that includes the Bemidji Regional Event Center.

"We would contend that what you currently have, the 65-foot height limit, doesn't give you what you want," Chattin said.

Using diagrams and schematics, Chattin argued that allowing a height of 80 feet would allow developers to have peaked and sloped roofs, creating a more attractive development.

Otherwise, he said, developers would be forced to build 65-foot-tall boxes.

"There is nobody sitting up there who is more concerned about how this development is going to look than city staff is," Chattin said.

But half of the JPC wasn't buying his argument.

"I think he's wearing his developer's hat very well," said commissioner Nicki Lemmers.

Lemmer said she was concerned about the view of the development from the lake and was against the increased height.

Commissioner Janice Moberg said the JPC settled on the 65-foot limit based on what the community wanted to see.

"We had the city's best interest at heart," she said. "The tree level would be our guide."

She also said that the JPC was told earlier this year, when it did approve the 85-foot height for the BREC, that no other buildings within the development would be proposed to be higher than 65 feet.

Chattin said if that had been stated that it was not true.

"We've never thought about meeting the lower height," he said.

Chattin said the increased height would have no effect on the number of units as the city would require that anything above 65 feet would not be able to be occupied.

Instead, he said, the city is trying to force a developer to build attractive buildings with different "steps" or levels.

Commissioner George Stowe, however, said he could not see how a developer could want to building anything on the lakeshore that was not attractive.

"I can't believe someone would come in and build an ugly box building," he said.

Commissioner Jess Frenzel argued, though, that with a height limit, developers wouldn't have much choice. Since developers would want to recoup their investment in land and make a profit, they would then build as many units as possible.

"I think you're forcing them into a box," he said.

Toward the end of the conversation on the PUD, which lasted roughly two hours, several commissioners question the idea of compromise.

Commissioner Scott Peterson suggested a height of 72.5 feet.

Moberg said the JPC originally wanted a height limit of 55 feet but had gone up to 65 feet as a compromise.

"We were worried then," she said. "You give an inch, they take a mile."

Rita Albrecht, the city's community development director, pointed out that the development is aimed at providing, to the public, what it has always wanted along the lakeshore: parks, trail and green space.

Chattin also said that if a traditional developer had control of the land instead of the city, he or she would be looking at much higher densities as it would be seeking to make a profit.

"We're not trying to make five or 10 million dollars," he said.

Commissioners voting in favor of the 80-foot height limit were Frenzel, Peterson, Corey Quick, Matthew Dyrdahl, and Chairman Clark Chambers.

Opposed were Lemmers, Moberg, Stowe, Genevieve Lowry and Joe McKinnon.

The JPB is next scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Aug. 12 at Bemidji City Hall.

Other PUD points

The PUD is a 150-page document that dictates the plans for the mixed-use development.

Also included as the JPC's recommendations for the PUD are the following:

- A maximum total housing density of 350 units. Lot 15, east of the BREC, is assigned 150 units, with the ability of transferring 75 units elsewhere in the development.

- That marinas and resorts be allowed as conditional uses within the development.

- Permitted uses include radio and television broadcasting stations; business services; printing and supply services; personal services and planners; travel agencies; clubs and lodges organized as a nonprofit or sponsored by a civic or similar organization; cottage and craft industries, provided they are light industrial in nature and are an integral part of retail sales occupying the same property; health and fitness centers, health spas and retreat centers; satellite medical and dental clinics; art galleries and museums; and public buildings.