BEMIDJI-A new fire station to serve residents north of Bemidji took a step closer to reality Wednesday.

At its meeting, the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board approved an interim use permit for the Bemidji Fire Department's new station.

Normally, the JPB would require a new fire station to have an approved conditional use permit. However, because the new station will be in a leased space, a former auto glass repair shop, the department instead needed just the interim permit.

In May, the Bemidji City Council authorized Fire Chief Dave Hoefer to lease the building, located in Northern Township, and set up another station. The decision to create another station was made in conjunction with the Bemidji Rural Fire Association.

The city and the association have a cooperative relationship and together represent 18 local government units that serve 35,000 people. The joint firefighting force has a cost-sharing formula where the city covers 57.8 percent of costs, while the rural governments are responsible for 42.2 percent.

The new station, set to open on Winter Sumac Road Northeast, near U.S. Highway 71, is estimated to cost $24,006, with the city responsible for $13,884 and the rural units paying $10,122.

When introducing the station concept to the council, Hoefer said that the northern end of the department's service area has a fair amount of population and building values, and that having the station will provide a more effective response to fires.

During Wednesday's meeting, a point of conversation on the new station revolved around the facility's gravel parking lot. The JPB was informed the station is allowed to have a gravel lot because it is a lease. If the fire department were to expand the space, though, the JPB may require paving the surface.

Additionally, the JPB added a condition that planning staff visit the facility in a year to check the condition of the gravel parking lot and the effect of fire equipment on surrounding roads and report the findings. If the fire department vacates the building, the permit will be terminated.

The new station includes 1,825 square feet of bay floor space, as well as an office area and a small meeting room.

Expected to open in early 2019, the station will be unstaffed and will be used in emergencies by on-call fire department staff. Once operational, the station's address will be 881 Winter Sumac Road NE.

To accommodate the new station, the department is relocating some of its current equipment there. The three stations in Bemidji are located at 318 Fifth St. NW; 312 Lake Ave. SE and 3810 Moberg Drive NW.