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Joint Planning Board: Concerns expressed on parking standards

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board endorsed the proposed amendments to its Zoning Ordinance Wednesday evening, but recommended further changes to the section that governs parking standards.

"I feel it's too open-ended," said John Wilder, a resident who opposed the proposed driveway standards.

The ordinance amendment had proposed that paved driveways would be required for residential parcels that have less than 1 acre of land.

An improvement to the driveway area would have been prompted if any of four "triggers" were to occur: if a new garage was permitted, if an addition added at least 20 percent of living space to the residence, if the property was converted from a residential family use to a rental, or if a new home was permitted for a parcel of land.

Joan McKinnon, chairwoman of the JPB, said she was "sympathetic" to Wilder's concerns.

Wilder, a contractor, said he did not support the proposed changes because he felt it would affect too many households in the JPB's coverage area.

One cause of concern, Wilder said, was the cost of improving a driveway with a bituminous surface.

"If you're already barely making the finances work ... that's a potential make-or-break deal and that affects my business," he said.

Wilder also said the change would affect him personally as he does not now have a paved driveway.

"Why is this necessary?" he said.

Mel Milender, the planning administrator for the joint planning office, said the parking issue arose last summer during a review of rentals in the area.

The JPB office looked at different ways to confront parking issues associated with rental properties, such as those that have vehicles parking in grass or yard areas, particularly on small lots, he said.

The proposed parking changes would have disallowed parking on grass and landscaped areas.

Milender said the JPB office has fielded complaints from residents who said renters were parking on their lawns.

"One of the solutions to that is to upgrade neighborhoods to have hard-surface parking areas," he said.

JPB staff yearly examines its Zoning Ordinance and suggests changes, which are first presented to the Joint Planning Commission for consideration.

One of the earlier drafts of the Zoning Ordinance amendments did not specify any triggers that would prompt the driveway improvements, Milender noted.

Wilder's opposition to the amendment proposal, which was voiced to the JPC as well, led to the inclusion of the four triggers, Milender noted.

It was not the intent of the JPB office to force homeowners to immediately improve their driveways, he said.

Wilder said he had no concerns with requiring rental properties to improve their driveways.

"I think that's completely fair, to target that ... use," he said. "I think it's too broad to target all homeowners."

JPB member Richard Lehmann said he believed the parking section of the ordinance could be addressed by defining different standards for parking lots versus driveways.

JPB member Ron Johnson noted that the city is now undergoing a Quality Neighborhood Initiative, a study that will examine ways to maintain and improve the housing in Bemidji.

"I think there's going to be some suggestions to correct this, to prevent the loss of quality neighborhoods," he said. "Removing it now (from the ordinance amendment) is not a bad idea."

The amendments, minus the parking section, received a 7-0 vote of support from the JPB. However, the vote on the formal ordinance that would adopt those changes was delayed, as it needs to be revised to reflect the JPB's decision.

Included in the proposed ordinance amendment is a new section addressing raising of non-domestic animals.

Specifications are included to differentiate between operations that would be allowed without a permit and those that would require a permit.

For those allowed without a permit, a minimum of 3 acres would be required instead of the current 2 acres.

William Naylor, a member of the city's newly created Sustainability Committee, addressed the JPB to say he supported the proposed changes.

Naylor said he was with a smaller group of the Sustainability Committee that examined the proposed changes and them met with Milender to discuss them.

"I approve of the way it is written now," he said.

Milender, too, thanked that group for its work, noting that he met with them for 2 1/2 hours.

"We had great, positive discussion on this," he said.

Developing that section of the ordinance was particularly challenging, Milender said, because it needed to strike a balance.

"Crafting this was extremely difficult to ensure we weren't pitting neighbor against neighbor," he said.

The fee schedule, which also was endorsed by the JPB, now includes two different permit options for those interested in raising animals.

The first is a $25 annual fee, which would expire on Dec. 31 each year. There also is a $100 recurrent permit that would not need to be renewed as long as the conditions the animals are being raised in do not change.

The two options offer a chance for those who want to first "try" to raise animals without it being financially unfeasible, Milender said.