COUNTY: Commissioners approve amendment allowing school to build near lake
BEMIDJI -- The question of where Bemidji School District will build a new elementary facility has persisted for the past several months. On Tuesday, its decision on which site to build on was made easier after a vote by the Beltrami County Board ...
BEMIDJI -- The question of where Bemidji School District will build a new elementary facility has persisted for the past several months. On Tuesday, its decision on which site to build on was made easier after a vote by the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners.
As of Monday's Bemidji School Board meeting, the district was considering three sites: One on Middle School Road, one near Bemidji High School and a third on Division Street West. The main issue for the third location was a Beltrami County Shoreland Management Ordinance, which disallows public facilities from being built near certain lakes.
On Oct. 26, the Beltrami County Planning Commission held a public hearing regarding a request to amend the ordinance from Cassandra Herbert for Tarutis LLC. The request was made through Herbert's acting agent, Doug Fuller.
Following that public hearing, the Planning Commission recommended that the County Board deny the request to amend the ordinance, citing a report from the county Environmental Services Department and communication from the Department of Natural Resources.
According to the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny, amending the ordinance would be inconsistent with Minnesota State Shoreland rules.
Because the County Board has the final say, Fuller and Superintendent Jim Hess were present to make the case on why an exception should be made for the school district.
"If I were to come up here and tell you I wanted to grow corn, I would have five yeses, because those are automatically approved in the Shoreland Management Ordinance," Hess said. "I know you have rules ... But what I ask you to do tonight is consider what is possible. Is it possible for an exception to the ordinance. Let's look at finding ways to open doors to work with each other."
In response, William Patnaude, director of Beltrami County Environmental Services, said the rules apply to all public facilities, and the schools aren't being singled out.
"The whole purpose was to protect the resources," Patnaude said. "If you look at the shoreland rules, under category of public uses, no public buildings are listed. Not just a school, a hospital, a courthouse, a DNR headquarters. Those types of things are not allowed in that jurisdiction."
"It's difficult for us to go against a recommendation from one of our department heads," Board Chair Keith Winger said. "But I don't see a school on that property being that detrimental to the lake."
A major problem that Bemidji is suffering from, Commissioner Jim Lucachick said, is that it is growing.
“When you grow a community, you have to be flexible with how you do that. It's not like we're doing this for a certain housing development," Lucachick said. "There comes a time as an elected official where you have to say, 'you know, we need to kick out of the rule here when it's for a specific, good reason and not for a special interest.'”
After discussion, a motion was made and carried in a 4-1 vote with Winger, Lucachick and Commissioners Tim Sumner and Joe Vene in favor and Commissioner Richard Anderson against.
"Let's not paint this as an all or none situation," said Lucachick. "If 99 percent of the people were here to develop that piece of property and stepped to the podium, I would have voted and upheld the Planning Commission's recommendation. This is an extreme exception and it's a great way to keep from urban sprawl."