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City and Northern Township officials embrace new plan

Northern Township on Thursday released a new annexation proposal which differs from the previously adopted annexation plan. The first phase, pictured above in blue, is not proposed to change. The second phase, pictured in green, has been expanded to include some areas that previously were planned to be annexed in the 2020 annexation phase. In exchange, the township proposes that tan-colored properties not be included in annexation at all at this time. Submitted Graphic

A revised annexation plan was presented for discussion Thursday by Northern Township to Bemidji city officials, who embraced its design and commended township officials for their work.

"What you've put together is very thoughtful," said John Chattin, city manager. "I think this will work well."

"You guys did a really great job," said Roger Hellquist, city councilor.

It was the first committee meeting between Northern Township and city officials as they re-examine previously adopted annexation lines. Northern Town Board supervisors Dan Bahr and Mike Kelly met with Hellquist and fellow Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson at Northern Town Hall. Township, city and joint planning staff also were present.

The newly proposal annexation lines would not change the first phase of annexation, which had been expected earlier this year, but would drastically change the rest of the plan for Northern Township. Properties south of Fern Street would come into the city limits in the second phase of annexation, as would properties east of Bemidji Avenue up to the Northwoods Access. There would be no third phase.

"Instead of three phases, we would go into a two-phase situation," Kelly said. "That would make more sense to us."

The areas proposed to come into the city include a number of parcels that already have city utilities.

Apartment complexes north of Anne Street and residences along Birchmont Drive, for instance, already have city water and sewer.

"(A property owner) might object but he really doesn't have much of a basis to object on," Gray said. "(He has) water and sewer right now."

Kelly and Bahr said their goal was to maintain as much township property as they could. The current plan would keep about 1,639 acres of township land that previously was proposed to enter the city limits.

The land that would not come into the city - north of Fern Street and west of Bemidji Avenue - is not likely to receive city utilities in the near future anyway, Kelly noted.

Craig Gray, the public works director/city engineer, said the plan would bring in fewer township roads which would save the city dollars that would have been spent on additional maintenance.

"This is a nice, compact plan and it minimizes the costs to the city," Gray said.

The proposal is far from adopted. The committee members will need to get support for their full respective boards and, then, if the existing orderly annexation agreement is to be amended, the city council and town boards from Northern Township and Bemidji Township both would need to vote in favor of the revision.

A public meeting would be held along the way to explain the plan and answer questions, officials agreed.

"We're going to have to sell this to our residents, but there's a reason we're doing it this way," Bahr said.

The 45-minute meeting was productive and friendly. But city officials did not appear confident about such tones to come from yet-to-be-scheduled meetings with Bemidji Township representatives.

Kay Murphy, the Bemidji city clerk, earlier Thursday said Bemidji Township has selected two town board members - Jan Heuer and Lowell Vagle - as its representatives to meet with Bemidji city councilors Rita Albrecht and Greg Negard in examining the annexation lines for Bemidji Township.

But Bemidji Township has not yet set a meeting date, Murphy said.

All three entities need to agree on changes to the existing orderly annexation agreement, which was adopted by all three boards in 2004, if adjustments are to be made.

"We have to have all the LGUs on board to even attempt an amendment," Bahr said.

Chattin said a Bemidji Township representative has told him that the township would not fight any Northern Township changes to the annexation agreement, even if talks between the city and Bemidji Township are not productive.

"They saw these as two separate issues," Chattin said. "I think that's a healthy way to look at it."

The orderly annexation agreement is still in place. If the city opted to do so, it could enact the plan with a majority vote.

"We prefer this (plan) but you're also not going to see us fighting the orderly annexation agreement either," Kelly said.