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City buys land to relieve traffic on Paul Bunyan Drive: $140K buys parcels for extension of 24th Street NW

BEMIDJI -- The city plans to buy two parcels of land behind Walgreens on Paul Bunyan Drive NW in hopes of relieving traffic on the artery that accesses much of Bemidji's retail stores.

The Bemidji City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to buy the parcels for $140,000 plus closing costs in order to eventually extend 24th Street NW, which runs parallel to Paul Bunyan Drive.

City Engineer Craig Gray said during the regular City Council meeting that the total estimated cost of extending the street 275 feet to Irvine Avenue would be roughly $270,000, including the land price plus construction costs for the street itself and the water main underneath the road. The $140,000 for the land acquisition would likely have to come from city reserves, Gray said in a memo to the council.

The two parcels are more than 26,000 square feet combined, about sixth-tenths of an acre. Property owner John Melhus was working with local engineering firm Freeberg and Grund to look at options for developing the property privately before the city voted to buy it, Mark Fuller of Freeberg and Grund said. Fuller was unable to give details about the proposed private development as it was only in the preliminary planning stages, he said.

As Gray noted before the vote took place Monday, a development on the lots would prevent the street from being extended if the city didn't buy the property first.

"If the city does not purchase it now, that roadway will not go through," Gray said

However, Council Member Nancy Erickson was skeptical of the idea that extending 24th would alleviate traffic, because the Walgreen's lot already has a means of exiting onto Irvine.

Council Member Ron Johnson, whose ward includes the street extention area, said extending the street has already received support in the past from businesses along Paul Bunyan Drive.

"I think a lot of those people who are going to those shops opt for the backroads," he said. "Passing on it right now would be a big mistake."

Erickson was the sole council member to vote against the measure.

Smoking issue at center

The council also voted Monday to grant the Sanford Center an exemption to the city's tobacco-free policy. Smokers will now be able to light up on exterior Sanford Center property as long as they do it 10 feet away from the entrance, whereas they previously were prohibited from smoking on the entire campus other than the parking lot.

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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