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Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board: South shore height to be decided tonight

This image shows the south shore as it existed before construction began on the Bemidji Regional Event Center. The city of Bemidji will use the image tonight to argue before the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board in favor of allowing development in the south shore to reach up to 80 feet. In the image is the water tower, which is more than 1,000 feet from the shore and 165 feet tall. The Hampton Inn & Suites is 67 feet tall and 75 feet from the shoreline. Development in the south shore is proposed ...

The height of development allowed in the south shore will be decided tonight.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board is set to consider the Planned Unit Development for the south shore of Lake Bemidji during its monthly meeting tonight at 6 at Bemidji City Hall.

Included in the PUD, submitted by the city of Bemidji, is a request for the allowed height of development be increased from 65 feet to 80 feet.

The Bemidji City Council last night voted 6-1 in favor of a request from City Manager John Chattin to gain council support in asking for the height variance. Councilor Barb Meuers was opposed.

Councilor Kevin Waldhausen said he did not understand what the problem would be with the height variance, even if the buildings were to be 100 feet high.

"I don't understand why tall buildings are a bad thing," he said.

"We're not a City as a Park anymore," said Meuers, referencing one of the city's mottos. "We're not a small-town city anymore."

"I was told just last week that change is happening and I just have to deal with it," Waldhausen said, referencing the council's decision to not impose a temporary ban on new rental registrations for single-family residences.

The Joint Planning Commission was unable to make a recommendation to the JPB on the height issue. The JPC split its vote, 5-5, last month when considering the request.

The south shore PUD encompasses all 141.5 acres of land that will be developed with a mixed use of residential and commercial development, including the Bemidji Regional Event Center.

John Chattin, who argued in favor of the 80-foot height last month before the JPC, said the increase in height would allow for "an aesthetically pleasing development that is an asset to our community."

The increased height would allow developers to have peaked and sloped roofs, creating a more attractive development, Chattin said.

The increased height would have no effect on the number of units allowed, according to Chattin, as the city would require that anything above 65 feet would not be able to be occupied. Also, only 50 percent of a building could be 80 feet high.

"We have to give it every opportunity for success," said Councilor Jerry Downs, arguing that the city has taken on a lot of debt for the development.

Councilor Ron Johnson agreed, recalling when the city wrestled with the decision to allow or not allow the Hampton Inn & Suites at 67 feet and 75 feet from the shoreline. That vote, he said, was 4-3.

"Who complains now about the Hampton Inn?" Johnson said. "That's one of the nicest things on that shore."

Height allowances on the south shore have been discussed numerous times before.

The JPB in December voted 5-2 to allow the BREC itself to extend 21 feet above the 65 feet allowed. But that vote is not very revealing, since many of the JPB members have changed since December. Of those seven who voted on the BREC height issue, three no longer serve on the JPB.

Joint planning staff has declined to make a recommendation on the matter.