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Joint Planning Commission compromises on sign ordinance

Downtown businesses may get more opportunities to market their events.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday night to recommend approval of proposed changes to the sign ordinance, with one significant adjustment that allows the downtown area and several other districts more time to display special event signs.

Special event sign permits in the Urban Renaissance (which includes the downtown area) and Office Medical zoning districts will be issued a maximum of three times per calendar year for up to five consecutive days.

These restrictions will also apply to permitted non-residential uses, and uses in the Lake Oriented Commercial, I-1 Light Industry and I-2 general industry zoning districts.

The sign ordinance will go before the Joint Planning Board at its Nov. 4 meeting.

Previously, the UR and OM districts were limited to one permit for up to three consecutive days in a six-month period, and the LC, I-1 and I-2 districts were limited to one permit for up to three consecutive days in a calendar year.

Unchanged are the restrictions for the University and Lake Oriented Development zoning districts (one special event sign permit for up to 10 consecutive days in any calendar year) and B-1 Low Density Commercial and B-2 General Commercial (one permit for up to 10 consecutive days in any four-month period, Jan. 1 to March 31, April 1 to June 30, July 1 to Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 to Dec. 31). The B-2 district includes the big-box retailers on the west end of the city.

Planning Administrator Mel Milender suggested the compromise after referencing letters received from Al Merschman, owner of Kenny's Clark in downtown Bemidji, and Lori Paris, president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce.

"My greatest concern, as I stated at the meetings, is that the extreme difference in allowable special events days ... creates a severe disadvantage to the businesses in the UR district," Merschman wrote. "I would hope that the commission would correct this and level the playing field to keep the UR district viable and competitive."

"I would ask that there be some consideration to lengthening the number of events and/or days to the district from the Urban Renaissance to the most southerly end of Paul Bunyan Drive," wrote Paris, who noted that she was unable to attend the meeting because the Chamber was hosting its Business Expo that evening.

"It's been a long process," said Assistant Planner Andrew Mack of the work on the sign ordinance, which began in June 2008.

"It's a living document -- it's not set in stone," Mack said. "We can revisit it in the future."

"Andrew has worked very hard with the community, trying to get people involved," Milender said, noting that there has been limited involvement from business leaders.

ERA apartment

Also during the meeting, the JPC recommended for approval with five conditions a Conditional Use Permit for Ross and Loree Pederson to allow the co-location of a two-bedroom apartment dwelling at 2815 Bemidji Ave. N., the location of ERA Real Estate.

Loree Pederson was the only person to speak during the public hearing.

The apartment already existed when the Pedersons remodeled the property, which was the former location of Cease Funeral Home. The Pedersons have never rented the apartment. The building will not incur exterior changes.

According to two conditions of the CUP, exterior lighting and signage must be compliant with the JPB Zoning Ordinance within one year.

The JPB will vote on the CUP at its Nov. 4 meeting.

New chairman

JPC member Matthew Dyrdahl officiated over his first meeting as JPC chairman. Dyrdahl was elected chairman by a 5-3 vote over member Richard Slinkman at the beginning of the meeting.

Clark Chambers, former JPC chairman, resigned as a member of the JPC as a result of his appointment to the Northern Town Board and subsequent appointment to the JPB.