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Bemidji Regional Airport zoning handed over to Joint Planning Board

Some 1,500 property owners soon will receive letters stating they must follow airport zoning regulations, even though they live in zoning-free townships.

The Bemidji Regional Airport Authority unanimously approved Wednesday night a memorandum of understanding between it and the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board allowing the JPB to handle airport zoning regulation.

Airport property - and airspace to the airport - lies in Grant Valley and Eckles townships where there is no formal zoning ordinances.

"There will be no new property" covered by airport zoning, said Harold Van Leeuwen, Airport Authority executive director. "All of the properties have been since 1972 when airport zoning went into effect."

The letters to landowners will tell them something that they should have known all long, officials say. Until now, airport zoning hasn't been a high priority as the Airport Authority had no mechanism to handle zoning requests, conditional uses or variances.

"This is education," Van Leeuwen said of the letters. That the property is affected by airport zoning will be recorded on abstracts when properties are sold.

"There are five local units of government that surround the airport, and all have pieces for safety zones that need regulation," said Mel Milender, JPB planning administrator. "Our agency can handle them all."

Airport zoning consists of three levels of restrictions - A, which extends in a conical manner from each end of a runway; B, which continues out from A; and C, a spherical zone around the entire airport airspace.

Zone A restrictions include no buildings or temporary structures, no assembled groups of people, or use of any device that would affect airport electronics and communications. Acceptable uses include agricultural crops, horticulture, raising livestock or wildlife habitat and non-spectator recreational use.

Zone B restrictions include no building site less than three acres; no churches, hospitals, schools, theaters, stadiums, hotels and motels, trailer courts, campgrounds or other places of public assembly.

Permitted are buildings on appropriate-sized sites and the same permitted uses as in Zone A.

The largest Zone C bans uses that cause interference with radio or electronic facilities on the airport or between the airport and aircraft, lighting that makes it difficult for pilots to see airport landing areas, or lighting that impairs visibility in the airport vicinity. All other uses are permitted that are below a set height restriction.

Under the memo of understanding, the JPB will administer airport zoning regulations, a service for which the authority will pay the JPB. Milender said no firm figure can be made at this time, but thought it may be in the range of $5,000 a year.

The JPB approved the memo at its Dec. 9 meeting, he said. Yet to be done is an agreement for the annual payment for services, and a fee structure for people applying for zoning variances. The fees would be deducted from what the authority annually owes.

"This will be one-stop shopping for the customer," Van Leeuwen said.

In other business, Van Leeuwen said a special meeting would be held in late February to hire an owner's representative for the construction of the airport's $8 million terminal improvement project.

He also said that tax-exempt facility bonds would be issued to pay for the local match to the project, carrying an estimated debt service of $77,000 a year for 20 years. That would be paid from passenger fee charges, which are about $90,000 a year.

In the first organizational meeting of the year, Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Lucachick replaced Commissioner Joe Vene as authority member. Beltrami County Commissioner Jack Frost will serve as vice chairman to permanent Chairman Marshall Froyd, and Bemidji City Councilor Roger Hellquist will serve as treasurer. Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson rounds out the authority membership.