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Joint Planning Commission: South shore PUD amendment recommended

The Edgewater Group has received a favorable recommendation from the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission that would allow a new hotel near the Hampton Inn & Suites to be 75 feet from the ordinary high water mark of Lake Bemidji.

No development plans for a new hotel have been submitted, but the Edgewater Group, represented by Bemidji businessman Rich Siegert, plans to develop a hotel in that vicinity.

The Hampton Inn is owned by Edgewater Management L.E.C., which has common ownership with the Edgewater Group.

The JPC on Thursday voted 5-3 in favor of an amendment to the Planned Unit Development for the south shore redevelopment. The amended PUD, which will receive final consideration from the JPB on Feb. 10, would then include the already developed Hampton Inn and adjoining Green Mill restaurant.

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.

The PUD is a 150-page document that specifies, among many points, allowed uses, setbacks and heights of development within the south shore area.

The Edgewater Group also requested some variances from the PUD requirements.

Changes requested included that a small, .36-acre parcel east of the Hampton Inn be allowed to have a 50-foot setback from Lake Bemidji; and that a larger, 2.13-acre parcel east of the smaller parcel be allowed to have a 75-foot setback from Lake Bemidji.

The PUD requires a 150-foot setback from the lakeshore.

The Hampton is set back 71.4 feet from the lakeshore.

Siegert told the commission that the long, narrow shapes of the parcels would require parking to actually encroach closer to the lake, if the buildings were required to be pushed further back.

"This opens that up quite a bit more and takes (the parking) away from the lake," he said.

Parking is not disallowed near the lakeshore by the PUD, noted Mel Milender, the planning administrator of the joint planning office.

In order to meet the parking requirements, the hotel would have to allow for vehicles between the lake and the hotel, Milender said.

"I think that would be less appealing," said commission member Joe McKinnon.

Commission member Janice Moberg wondered what would prevent future developers from asking for similar allowances, if the JPC, and eventually perhaps the JPB, approved the lesser setbacks.

"Is it going to open a can of worms?" she said.

Milender pointed out that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has already purchased land that will feature the Paul Bunyan Trail running along the lakeshore.

That trail will be located 150 feet from the shoreline on the central and western portions of the south shore development, so no buildings will be able to encroach closer than that in those areas, Milender noted.

As it poised itself for a vote, the JPC was mostly divided on the allowed height for development.

According to the PUD, the height allowed for development is 85 total feet - 65 "occupiable" feet and 15 extra feet to allow for peaked and sloped roofs and for mechanical needs such as air-conditioning units and elevator shafts.

Commission member Richard Slinkman asked Siegert if he would be willing to compromise on the height if the lesser setback was approved.

Siegert said he would prefer not to limit his options.

Schematics for the new hotel have not yet been developed, because the Edgewater Group does not wish to spend the money on drawings until it knows the requirements it must meet.

The more options available, Siegert said, the more aesthetically pleasing the new hotel can be.

"I'm not building a box building," he said. "If that's what can be built, it won't be built. I'll promise you that."

Ideally, he said, the Edgewater Group is looking at a six-story hotel that will not be an extension of the Hampton Inn, but rather, another hotel brand.

"It will be distinctly different, but it will be nicely done," he said.

Commission Jim Humeniuk made a motion to allow for a 80-foot height for development by the Edgewater Group.

Humeniuk said the public has embraced the Hampton Inn.

"Mr. Siegert did a very nice job with it," he said. "I've had no complaints from anyone regarding the look of it."

The motion was seconded, but Slinkman instead made a motion to amend the motion to an allowed height of 60 feet from 80.

Slinkman's proposed amendment to the motion failed on a 4-4 tie. Voting in favor of the amendment were Genevieve Lowry, Kristi Miller, Moberg and Slinkman. Opposed were Matthew Dyrdahl, Jess Frenzel, Humeniuk and McKinnon.

Humeniuk's motion for the 80-foot height was passed on a 5-3 vote as Slinkman voted in favor.

Then, commissioners voted along the same lines to recommend approval of the fully amended PUD to the JPB.