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Neighborhoods examined: Bemidij City Council discusses QNI study

If someone can drive or walk down a Bemidji neighborhood street, could he or she pick out which houses are owner-occupied and which are rentals?

"If you can, that needs to be regulated," said Paul Bilotta, a consultant with Bonestroo, the firm hired by the city of Bemidji to lead the Quality Neighborhood Initiative study.

The Bemidji City Council met with Bonestroo representatives, city and joint planning staff, and members of the QNI Steering Committee in a two-hour work session Monday evening to again review the QNI study.

Top issues discussed at the meeting included parking issues, including how to limit vehicles from parking on non-paved surfaces such as front and back yards and whether the city should implement neighborhood-specific parking permits.

The QNI study identifies a quality neighborhood as one that has active resident involvement, a safe environment, sound buildings, well-maintained yards and public spaces and sound public infrastructure.

The study was authorized by the council in 2009 after it rejected a proposal to implement a moratorium on the conversion of single-family homes to rental properties. It has focused on three specific neighborhoods: the Bemidji State University corridor along Lake Bemidji, the neighborhoods just west and south of that, and the Nymore neighborhood.

The study has been criticized by some councilors because they felt they were neither informed nor included in the process. Those feelings were aired in a January joint session with Bonestroo and the QNI Steering Committee.

In the follow-up meeting this week, Bonestroo presented a revised plan that addressed 35 questions and concerns raised by the city earlier this year.

Review and discussion of the document will be ongoing. The council decided it would discuss the study monthly so as to not have to spend significant meeting time rehashing previously discussed recommendations.

The next meeting was set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20. In the meantime, each councilor will select three priorities suggested in the study that he or she would like to focus on. Those items will be used to develop an agenda of sorts to keep the council on task. All of the study's recommendations are to be discussed - the priorities are planned to be a starting point.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board last week decided it would begin to explore the possibility of developing a rental ordinance for its entire coverage area. That group is expected on April 13 to name a three-person exploratory committee to begin looking at the issue and whether the JPB should get involved in rental regulation.

The next Bemidji council meeting on the study was specifically planned to follow that meeting.

Bilotta pointed out that the QNI study recommends the formation of a Neighborhood Service Team, which would be composed of representatives from various groups and organizations.

The rationale for doing so, he explained, is that the QNI study involves recommendations that could be become the tasks of various departments. Nuisance calls would be handled by the police department, land use by the JPB, rental registration by the city, etc.

So the Neighborhood Service Team would involve individuals from city and joint planning staff, a representative from the Headwaters Regional Development Commission (which is expected to carry forth the study into a second phase at a later date) and a police officer.