In a good faith effort to promote growth downtown, the Brainerd City Council agreed to waive permit fees for two completed building projects.

As a part of the River to Rail project — an effort to revitalize portions of the city — council members agreed in July to waive sewer and water availability charges and city building and permit fees for any building project valued at less than $150,000 within the River to Rail corridor.

The River to Rail corridor runs east to west between the Northern Pacific Center and the Mississippi River, and north to south between Washington and Oak streets.

The council approved the measure the evening of July 1. Earlier that day, Marie Kirsch applied for a permit for her new business Knotty Pine Bakery, the winner of last year’s Destination Downtown competition. Because she obtained the permit before the council’s measure, she paid $1,966.39 in permit fees. Bruce Buxton, who spearheaded the River to Rail effort, asked the council Monday, Nov. 18, to consider refunding those fees.

“I just think the incentives were specifically intended to help people like that,” Buxton said of Kirsch during the council’s personnel and finance meeting Monday. “So I think you have an opportunity to help them and create some good will.”

On a similar note, Buxton also asked the council to refund permit and penalty fees to Dave Pueringer, who owns the downtown building housing Bob and Fran’s Factory Direct and recently added large windows and an awning to the front of the building. Pueringer, however, did not have a permit before work commenced. He was subsequently charged $830.75 for both the permit fee and an investigation fee equal to the permit fee.

In a letter to the council, Pueringer wrote he misunderstood the city’s new policy to waive permit fees and therefore did not think he needed a permit. He also wrote the work did not include structural changes to the property, as the windows were inserts and the awning was just a sign.

“I feel I have done a lot to improve the Downtown Brainerd image,” Pueringer wrote in his letter. “I therefore ask for leniency and forgiveness on this error.”

Community Development Director David Chanski, however, said Pueringer applied for a permit for the awning on a Friday and had the work done that weekend, though the permit was not officially approved until the following Monday. He said Pueringer subsequently applied for a permit for the windows the next week, after the work was already completed.

Buxton and the council chalked the issue up to miscommunication.

During the council’s personnel and finance committee meeting before the full council meeting Monday, Buxton pleaded Pueringer’s case.

“Relative to Mr. Pueringer, here’s a guy that has made big investments in your community in downtown. He took a building that I think most everybody when they first looked at it would have torn it down and completely rebuilt it and invested a lot of money in it,” Buxton said. “So maybe there’s some compassion, some cooperation, give him a pass on one time.”

He added this would be a good opportunity to clear up any confusion with the public about not needing a permit at all and to prove the city is willing to cooperate with those who want to invest in downtown.

With a picture of the additions to Bob and Fran’s appearing in the business section of the Brainerd Dispatch in October, council member Dave Badeaux said he did not want to turn around and have to tell people the city fined Pueringer for his positive contribution to downtown.

The committee consented to refunding the fees for both Kirsch and Pueringer, and the rest of the council agreed during the full council meeting.

Badeaux said at the council meeting there may have been some miscommunication on the city’s part to the community, causing Pueringer to think he didn’t need a permit at all. He added this situation can be a learning opportunity, allowing the city to make sure the community now understands how the process works. Even though permit fees — aside from the state’s surcharge — are waived for certain projects in the River to Rail district, council members emphasized developers still need permits before completing projects.

“The feelings that we had is that the last thing we want to do is take these business owners that are taking the steps to clean up and beautify our downtown and slap them on the wrist for having done so,” Badeaux said. “We do have regulations, but in this instance, we felt that it’s a good opportunity to show some good faith to the people that are looking to invest in our downtown.”

Badeaux also noted the decision to waive the permit fees on Knotty Pine for Kirsch seemed appropriate because she applied for the permit the same day the council approved the incentive measure.

With the council agreeing this will be a one-time learning opportunity for the community, council member Dave Pritschet advised anyone who is unsure of what the policies are to contact the city before doing any work.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.