BEMIDJI -- Developers, BSU staff and the public got a chance to speak their mind Thursday on the University Heights project. That project calls for construction of apartments and commercial space on what was once the site of Bemidji High School, across the street from BSU. Following a public hearing, the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission recommended rezoning the property from Single-Family Residential (houses) to Multi-Family Residential (apartments), as well as approving a conditional use permit for the future development.

The first construction phase consists of a four-story, 396 by 82 foot-building on Bemidji Avenue with commercial space for six businesses on the ground floor and 42 total apartments on the three floors above. Construction on Phase I is planned to begin in April 2015 and finish by April 2016.

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JPB Planning Administrator Mayana Rice said the project "will change the face of Bemidji Avenue" and called it a "core urban development."

The project wouldn't cause "any adverse effect" on traffic patterns, Rice said. The developers, John and Trudy Peterson of Peterson Developers LLC, want to extend 16th Street NE from Minnesota Avenue so it intersects with Bemidji Avenue.

John Peterson said new crosswalks are planned to be installed at the intersections of Bemidji Avenue and 15th, 16th and 17th Streets, and potentially a pedestrian overpass that crosses the road artery.

Peterson said he does not have prior development experience, but he and his wife are committed to see the project through.

The target demographic for residential tenants is "strictly BSU students," Peterson told the JPC, although they can deviate from the students-only policy if required.

A nearby resident warned of the potential increase of foot traffic in between the apartments and BSU that go through his neighborhood of residential houses. He urged the building of an overpass across Bemidji Avenue, and also raised concerns of underage drinking at the complex.

BSU will operate all of the apartments. BSU Vice President of Finance and Administration Bill Maki said the housing would be managed similar to BSU dormitories, with a prohibition on alcohol use.

BSU will staff at least one facility manager on site for the Phase I building, Maki said. BSU would collect rent from the students on behalf of the Petersons, he said.

The development would help BSU keep pace with competitors in attracting students, Maki added.

The proposed development also plans on a 296 car 4-level parking garage near the west side of the Phase I building.

Construction on Phase II, which includes the parking garage and two smaller multi-use buildings, is scheduled to begin in 2018. However, Rice said the garage could be built sooner if there's high activity at the Phase I building.

Phase III involves two combination apartment/commercial buildings, one building with apartments only, and 12 townhomes. Phase III construction is planned to begin in April 2021 and finish by April 2022.

The JPC's recommendation now goes to the Joint Planning Board for possible approval. Additional details and project maps can be viewed at the JPB's website.