Council votes to remove asphalt plant provision from zoning ordinance

A public hearing at the Bemidji City Council meeting Monday on proposed changes to the city's industrial zoning ordinance spawned a debate on whether asphalt plants should be included in the list of businesses allowed in the industrial park.

A public hearing at the Bemidji City Council meeting Monday on proposed changes to the city's industrial zoning ordinance spawned a debate on whether asphalt plants should be included in the list of businesses allowed in the industrial park.

In a 4-3 vote, the council voted to remove a provision that listed asphalt plants as acceptable special uses in the I-2 general industry district. Mayor Richard Lehmann and Councilors Nancy Erickson and Roger Hellquist voted against the motion.

The decision came after two Bemidji Township residents spoke at the public hearing against the inclusion of asphalt plants in the proposed revision of the city industrial zoning code. Though there are no immediate plans for the construction of an asphalt plant in the industrial park, they were concerned that including the asphalt plant provision in the ordinance could lead to an asphalt plant being built in an area that some deemed too close to residential neighborhoods.

Lanee Paulson, Bemidji Township resident and clerk for the township board, said she appreciated the city's efforts to simplify and clarify the existing zoning ordinance. However, she said the Joint Planning Commission, which consists of representatives from the city of Bemidji and Bemidji and Northern townships, is working on a new zoning ordinance that should be developed in a few months. She said she would prefer if the commission could review the city's proposed ordinance before the changes go up for a vote before the council.

"I would request that the Joint Planning Commission be asked to find zones for such things as asphalt plants and sawmills," she said. "It would make more sense to have them in rural areas where they have five to 10 acres so they aren't close to residents."


Although the proposed ordinance would require a special use permit before an asphalt plant would be allowed in the industrial park, Paulson said that is not restrictive enough.

"Now that it is on the conditional use permit, it will be harder for you to vote no for such a thing," she told the council.

Her husband, Bemidji Township Vice-Chairperson Mark Paulson, agreed the council should pass the proposal on to the Joint Planning Commission to allow it to look into the issue as it drafts its own zoning ordinance.

"We're concerned primarily about including in the list of possible uses an asphalt plant," he said. "There are certainly better locations for that type of facility someplace else in the greater Bemidji area that's being considered by the Joint Planning Commission."

City Councilor Jerry Downs has been vocal about his opposition to including asphalt plants in the city zoning ordinance. "I (take) issue that the asphalt plant was still included in here," he said Monday, pointing to a draft of the proposed ordinance. "The people in my ward, and particularly Bemidji Township, do not support that."

Later in the meeting, Downs noted that at least two new residential areas are planned for the southern end of the city near the I-2 zoning district. He added that since it is becoming a residential area and is "the gateway to the city," an asphalt plant would not be a desirable inclusion to that area.

However, Lehmann said, "Every one of those developments is going to have streets and every one of those streets is going to require asphalt."

He continued, "We have to have an asphalt plant somewhere in the area in order to provide us at least reasonable-cost asphalt. ... If not there, where?"


The proposed ordinance states that any potential use not specifically listed is subject to review by the city planner and the Bemidji Planning Commission. If one does not agree with the city planner's decision, he or she may appeal to the City Council, which has final decision-making authority.

City Attorney Al Felix noted that even if the city does not specifically list asphalt plants as a permitted special use in the zoning ordinance, it does not necessarily mean the City Council would be able to stop one from coming into the area.

"Simply de-listing it is not going to eliminate it as an issue," he told the council. "Your decision is still ultimately subject to challenge."

After the council voted to remove the asphalt plant provision, Lehmann requested that the asphalt plant issue be forwarded to the Joint Planning Commission for discussion. The issue could be brought up as soon as today's commission meeting.

The zoning ordinance is scheduled for its final reading at the next City Council meeting, though Lehmann acknowledged that the final reading would be continued to a later date if the Joint Planning Commission hasn't had time to review the proposed ordinance. The asphalt issue will likely be revisited at the next council meeting.

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