Birchmont Drive residents consider legal options
Fight democracy with democracy. This was the message from Dr. Carl Seemann, who hosted a meeting at his Hilltop Animal Hospital Wednesday night for area residents opposed to the planned utility expansion and road project for Birchmont Drive. Abou...
Fight democracy with democracy.
This was the message from Dr. Carl Seemann, who hosted a meeting at his Hilltop Animal Hospital Wednesday night for area residents opposed to the planned utility expansion and road project for Birchmont Drive.
About one dozen residents attended, representing 10 properties that would be assessed for utility work associated with the project. Affected property owners connecting to sewer only would be assessed $14,470 per lot owned and those connecting to sewer and water would be assessed $21,040.
The group unanimously decided on Wednesday to ask an attorney to consider the legality of the project and its process.
"You have to battle for what you get in life," Seemann said.
His message to his neighbors was that they have, to date, simply been out-played throughout the process by individuals who have worked the democratic system to their favor.
Seemann encouraged the group to respond by fighting back through another democratic process: the courts.
"The only way we can fight this is to use democracy," he said.
The sewer and water extension project was initiated after residents presented a petition to the Bemidji City Council in February 2005 asking for the project to be considered. It later expanded to include Beltrami County for the improvement of Birchmont Drive.
Seemann opined that project supporters have utilized a well-planned, organized system to advance the project this far.
"They're making you pay lots of money for them," he said.
The Northern Township Board of Supervisors on Monday voted 4-1 to proceed with the project. The Bemidji City Council will next address the matter during its April 7 council meeting when it will consider awarding the bid for the project.
Seemann, who also is entangled in another legal battle involving the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine involving his veterinary license, said he has spoken with his attorney, Zenas Baer, about the case.
Baer, Seemann said, was interested in several aspects of the Birchmont Drive case.
Most importantly, the local government unit - either Northern Township or the Bemidji City Council - must have kept affected property informed about the costs of the project throughout its process, Seemann said.
"They look very vulnerable on this," he said.
Another point raised by several residents in attendance was the decision by Northern Township to conduct a survey of affected property owners in hopes of gauging support for the project. At issue was the decision of the board to count all unreturned surveys as votes in favor of the project.
The results showed that 78 property owners (36 percent) were in favor of moving the project forward and 86 property owners (40 percent) were opposed. The 52 remaining property owners (24 percent) did not return the survey.
Resident Greg Ramey on Wednesday pointed out that he has never been able to get a consistent answer or update on the project throughout its process.
Additionally, he owns undeveloped land that will be assessed for the utility connections not once, but twice, because it was determined that he in fact owns two developable lots, Ramey said.
Yet, he only received one survey in the mail after the March 10 public hearing when property owners were supposed to get as many votes as they own lots, Ramey said.
When asked what the ultimate goal of a potential lawsuit would be, Seemann said it would stop the project in its tracks.
"This is a possible way, if not to succeed, then to at least really shake things up," Seemann said.
A lawsuit would stop the process until the courts determine its outcome, he explained.
Baer will be asked to review the facts and materials related to the Birchmont Drive project and its process and recommend whether he believes a case would have merit, Seemann said.
"There should be more power in numbers," Seemann said.