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Bemidji City Council discusses future of Joint Planning Board

After Northern Township previously submitted a notice of intent to leave the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, the Bemidji City Council discussed the organization's future during its meeting on Monday, Oct. 24.

Bemidji City Hall
Bemidji City Hall. Pioneer file photo
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BEMIDJI — The future of the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board was the main topic of discussion during the Bemidji City Council's work session on Monday.

The discussion followed Northern Township providing notice of its intent to leave the partnership during a joining meeting between the two governmental bodies on Sept. 26.

The JPB, which is the regulatory body for planning and zoning decisions in both Bemidji and Northern Township, was created 15 years ago. Originally, it also included Bemidji Township, which exited the group in 2017.

The notice presented by Northern Township would have the partnership formally dissolve on Dec. 31, 2024, though this is open for discussion should the two parties come to an agreement to separate earlier.

“It can be whatever you both agree upon. The bigger question is if we can come to an agreement as the JPB for when the best time is to split ways,” said City Attorney Katie Nolting.

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Because of the steps that dissolution would require, the formal end of the JPB could not take place within a timeframe of less than a year, meaning that it will likely exist at least until December 2023.

“There’s a lot that we would have to work with (the city council) on,” said City Manager Nate Mathews, explaining the changes that would have to be made.

These include how the JPB would split its finances, what would happen to the organization’s employees, and changes to the city code that would bring planning and zoning decisions back under its authority.

Most of the council expressed that they were ready to accept Northern Township’s decision, and hoped to work with them to make the separation as smooth and amicable as possible.

“I can’t help but feel that the JPB has run its course. (Northern Township) is making their plans to move beyond the JPB, and I am ready to accept that,” said Mayor Jorge Prince.

There were some councilors, however, who did advocate for further negotiations with Northern Township to explore the possibility of maintaining the JPB.

“I would like to see what we can do to keep this together, something that’s been there for years,” said At-large Councilor Daniel Jourdain. “I believe we can make a best faith effort to try and negotiate and meet in the middle.”

If Northern Township leaves the JPB, the organization would dissolve. Planning and zoning decisions for the city of Bemidji would then become the responsibility of the city council.

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Northern Township incorporation

The discussion on the JPB also followed an announcement on Thursday by the Northern Township Board of its intention to explore the possibility of incorporating into a new city.

“The current board feels that the timing is right for our township to take the next steps in becoming a city,” the announcement read. “We would control our own future as a community for how and where we continue to grow while also maintaining our rural character.”

Formally becoming a city would open up different funding avenues for Northern Township, along with other opportunities.

“These are just a few of the key reasons that we feel now is the time for our township to take the next steps toward incorporating,” the notice read, “we also want to know how our fellow residents feel.”

Two meetings have been scheduled at Northern Town Hall for Nov. 2 to gather feedback on the proposal, one from 3 to 4:30 p.m., and the other from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Feedback can also be sent via email to nthntwp@paulbunyan.net.

With potential changes coming to Northern Township and the JPB, the Bemidji City Council emphasized that it still plans to partner on projects in the future, whatever that might look like.

“(Northern Township) is done with the JPB, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue with different partnerships in the future,” said Ward 2 Councilor Josh Peterson.

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