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Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board: DNR voices concerns over south shore development

A letter from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sent to the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board prevented approval Wednesday night of an amendment to the Planned Unit Development of the south shore redevelopment.

The letter, sent to planning administrator Mel Milender, written by Daniel Thul, area hydrologist for the DNR, stated that the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission's recommendation to allow certain amendments to the PUD is inconsistent with the current shoreland ordinance and previous agreements between the city of Bemidji and the state.

The proposed amendment to the PUD would include the already developed Hampton Inn & Suites and adjoining Green Mill restaurant.

The JPB voted unanimously to make a final decision at a special meeting following the next JPC meeting, after the legal counsel's review of the DNR's concerns.

The JPB also voted to extend the State of Minnesota 60-day rule, so that if needed, the JPB would have until May 1 to make an official ruling on the change to the amendment.

The Edgewater Group received a favorable recommendation from the JPC on Jan. 28 to allow a new hotel near the Hampton Inn & Suites to be 75 feet from the ordinary high water mark of Lake Bemidji.

The Hampton Inn is owned by Edgewater Management LEC, which has common ownership with the Edgewater Group. 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 JPC's recommendation would only be to change the South Shore PUD, not to allow for a development permit.

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 amended PUD would include the already developed Hampton Inn and adjoining Green Mill restaurant.

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

In his letter, Thul writes, "As much as I support the City and the South Shore PUD, I have strong concerns on the issues stated above."

Thul was not present at Wednesday's JPB meeting.

Thul supported the JPC's recommendation to limit the height of the Hampton Inn to the existing variance height of 85 feet and not to allow the Hampton Inn to move closer to the lake.

"We are not building anything closer to the lake. I don't know why (Thul) made that statement," Siegert said. "In my proposal, I have no reason to build closer to the lake. Our objective is to stay back from the lake because it creates a far more aesthetic situation."

In his letter, Thul apologized for not commenting on the South Shore PUD issue before the JPC meeting in January.

"I am disappointed he made such a late attempt to try and relay some new information," Siegert said. "I don't see him here tonight to address the issue, so I wonder how serious he is about it. I appreciate your concerns for his input, but I also think time is of the matter."

Siegert expressed his concerns about the timeline for development.

"At this point in time, there are no blueprints because I don't know what to draw," Siegert said. "As a result, if you wait until May 1, it takes six to eight weeks before any drawings are completed. Last fall we were thinking we would have drawings completed by February."

The JPB will meet in a special session following the JPC meeting on Thursday, Feb. 25.

"This will allow the commission to review their decision and it will allow us to work with the DNR and our attorney," Milender said.