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South shore redevelopment: Doubletree Hotel proposed

A proposal to connect a new 80- to 90-room hotel to the Green Mill restaurant has received a positive recommendation from the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission.

Rich Siegert, representing the Edgewater Group, has proposed that the new hotel would have six floors and be 100 feet from Lake Bemidji.

The JPC, which first considered the request in April, voted 6-3 Thursday to recommend approval. The Joint Planning Board will consider final approval late this month.

The request has been considered, in various forms, multiple times.

In January, the JPC voted to recommend a similar action. But Dan Thul, a hydrologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, raised late concerns about a 100-foot setback from Lake Bemidji instead of 150 feet, which is the standard in the South Shore Planned Unit Development.

Siegert has maintained throughout the debate that the 150-foot setback would force developers to locate parking in front, between the hotel and the lakefront.

Commissioners last week sought to find some type of compromise. JPC member Richard Slinkman suggested that the 100-foot setback be approved, but the sixth floor of the hotel be eliminated, thus decreasing the density of rooms.

"To remove the top floor there and remove 19-20 rooms ... I just have a great fear it's not going to happen," Siegert said. "(The) franchise will not approve it because it becomes too small of a property."

He was asked whether there was another franchise, other than Doubletree Hotel, that would accept a lower-density hotel.

"Then it would not be attached to the Green mill," Siegert said. "The only reason it becomes attached to the Green Mill is because it is another Hilton franchise property and they are willing to tie that together to make that work."

Another commissioner asked whether it would not be easier to expand the existing Hampton Inn & Suites, which already is connected to the Green Mill.

"Hampton Inn will not expand because when Hampton Inn expands, they want the properties to look like there was not an annex or another addition put on," Siegert said. "They want to make it look like it was part of the original hotel."

Mel Milender, the planning administrator for the Joint Planning office, said he has reviewed the request and possible actions with the JPB's attorney.

Thul, however, was still against the requests.

"I just want to emphasize that what was presented here does not change our position at this time."

JPC member Jim Humeniuk made the motion to recommend approval of the request, saying, "We passed the same proposal 60 days ago."

The vote was 6-3 with commissioners Nicki Lemmer, Genevieve Lowry and Kristi Miller opposed.