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Judge to Bemidji Township: stop zoning outside of JPB

BEMIDJI -- It was another court win Friday for the city of Bemidji in its long fight over annexation with Bemidji Township as Ninth District Judge Paul T. Benshoof said he will order the township to stop taking care of its own zoning issues.

Benshoof ruled in March that the township is still a member of the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, a group comprised of the township, the city of Bemidji and Northern Township to collectively vote on area planning and zoning issues. The township has been deciding its own zoning issues, which it cannot do as a member of the JPB. A visibly irritated Benshoof said he will issue a contempt citation if the township persists in doing its own zoning.

"I have made a decision that is not being followed," he said, decrying what he called the township's "defiance."

The order that Benshoof said he will sign "in full" is a proposed action submitted to the court earlier by the city's attorney, James Thomson. The order specifically prohibits the township from giving or considering zoning, building, or land use permits, and also prohibits it from telling third parties that it has the authority to give the permits.

Additionally, the order awards court costs and attorney's fees to the city for the money it spent to file the order.

The township has appealed Benshoof's March 20 decision in which he dismissed the initial lawsuit filed in 2012, but both Thomson and Benshoof said his ruling is still in effect even pending appeal.

The township's attorney, John Steffenhagen, said later the township will comply with Benshoof's order but also plans to appeal it.

The JPB is named as a defendant in the township's second lawsuit it filed last month for wrongful acts the township says were committed after a May 2013 settlement agreement in the first lawsuit. A hearing in the second lawsuit has not yet been scheduled.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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