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South shore land sale waits on public hearing

BEMIDJI — The sale of city-owned land slated for residential development on the south shore of Lake Bemidji awaits only a public hearing to be finalized.

And while citizens of Bemidji will have the opportunity on April 1 to express their support, or lack thereof, for the sale, City Attorney Al Felix said public input on such issues has historically been minimal.

“You know, practically speaking, that we get very little comment from the public on these types of things,” Felix said Wednesday at a meeting of the Bemidji Economic Development Authority (BEDA). “But, we’re following the process and making a lot of information of the purchase agreement to the public.”

Wednesday’s action by the BEDA approved an agreement between the city and B&B Enterprises LLC for the purchase. The limited liability corporation is operated by Bob Whelan, a developer with several apartment buildings in Northern Township, and Brian Freeberg, Felix said.

B&B Enterprises accepted a counter-offer from the city, and will pay $300,000 for about 6.5 acres of land. That number was reached last week in a BEDA meeting that was closed to the public.

Ward 2 Councilmember Roger Hellquist expressed apprehension not over the sale itself, but the steps leading to what is now nearly a done deal.

“I think there’s discussion to be had on where we’re going with this overall. I think there’s some caution that needs to be taken and maybe this isn’t the place to do it,” he said, referring to the option of closing the meeting to the public, and discussing the agreement in closed session. “I think the process that led us to the situation is greatly flawed right from the committee that brought it here to the cost per acre. This may not be a place for discussion and I’m willing to let it go.”

Hellquist was not present at last week’s closed meeting.

At-large Councilmember Jim Thompson countered.

“We also talked about the fact that time is of the essence here. We don’t want anything to delay this. Nothing.” Thompson said.

Wednesday’s signing of the agreement required $10,000 down from the B&B Enterprises, with the remaining $290,000 to be paid before May 9. The land purchased represents the northern portion of the area - just west of 5th Street and Gould Avenue NE, and northeast of the Sanford Center - and is proposed to hold about 30 “Townhome-style” units. The southern half of the area, about five acres, may hold an additional 18 units, and cannot be purchased by B&B Enterprises for less than $100,000, Felix said.

With councilmembers Reed Olson and Michael Meehlhause absent, Thompson moved to approve the agreement, with Ward 3 Councilmember Ron Johnson seconding.

Only Hellquist voted no.

“My vote’s going to be predicated on the process,” Hellquist said.

Addressing Hellquist’s concerns, Johnson explained the BEDA’s rationale behind going forward with the agreement.

“The real issue is the other side of the (Sanford Center),” he said. “Sometimes it’s worth more to sell (the land) lower and have the tax base, than holding the property and not having any income there.”

Justin Glawe
Reporting on crime, courts and Beltrami county government. Follow me on Twitter @JustinGlawe.
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