D.J. Dondelinger, owner at Dondelinger Automotive in Baxter, started getting phones calls at 6 a.m. Thursday asking if he’d read about the recent Baxter City Council meeting.
He hadn’t. But in short order he discovered the city council voted to start annexation proceedings on land where Dondelinger Automotive is planning to build its auto dealership.
Wednesday night, the city council voted to file a petition for annexation of Dondelinger property along Highway 371 and County Highway 77. Development plans for the site call for construction of the Chevrolet Cadillac and Hyundai dealerships along with a body shop at the site. The proposed development is on 11.86 acres in Unorganized Territory, which is governed by Crow Wing County. Earlier this week, the county approved a plan to fill 47,545 square feet, or more than an acre, of wetlands.
Dondelinger said he was shocked at the city of Baxter’s assertion this project was on a fast track. Baxter staff participated in numerous meetings, Dondelinger said, adding he’s been working on the project since August.
“This isn’t like this is a new deal, that’s why I’m shocked,” Dondelinger said. “It’s not like this has been a sneaky deal. Why didn’t they annex that land before. It’s not like they didn’t know this was coming.”
He said the project met Crow Wing County’s requirements. The wetland plan was approved, Dondelinger said, and architectural designs are moving forward. Plans are to begin cutting trees on Tuesday at the site. Dondelinger’s time line is to be in the new building in October. He said he has a March 31 deadline with Chevrolet to have things in motion. Dondelinger said he hopes the annexation hearing is before an administrative judge so he’ll have the opportunity to argue his side.
For the city of Baxter, a concern was putting the commercial development on septic mound systems when city sewer and water is just feet away. Dondelinger said the comments from the city that the use of septic systems for a commercial development would foul nearby lakes and residential wells is a fear tactic.
“We’re not doing anything bad,” Dondelinger said. “We are meeting the codes. I have done everything the county has asked me to do.”
Dondelinger said it is not like they are just putting a pipe in the ground and dumping waste on the ground. He said in today’s world every chemical used is hauled away, including leftover paint from the body shop. He said the dealership no longer uses solvents because of the cost of disposal.
Dondelinger said his dealership by Isanti, which went up in 2008, uses a septic system and is also across the highway from city sewer and there is no problem. The response by the city makes it sound as though the county can’t handle the development, Dondelinger said. Baxter city officials said Wednesday the county is used to handling more rural development than urban commercial settings. Regulations differ between the county and city, including building design requirements. Dondelinger said he’d need a variance to construct the building Chevrolet wants if it were in the city limits.
Wednesday the city council voted to petition the state for a public hearing on the question of annexation. In a second motion, the city voted to seek a joint resolution for annexation with the cooperation of Crow Wing County.
Dondelinger said if the city wanted to annex that property they could have done so earlier. He questioned why annexation procedures weren’t extended to other nearby businesses such as Lake Region Storage with its impervious surface coverage. And he said other development to the north makes the idea of saving space for a potential frontage road a concern that has not kept pace with updated transportation plans.
Dondelinger said he would have preferred to stay where he is on Highway 210 in Baxter, but the Cypress Drive extension and the automotive dealership’s growth meant a move was needed.
“It just seems like foolishness to me,” Dondelinger said of the annexation. “It’s just a big waste of time and money. What if I was another half mile up? Would the city want to come after me, too? How far north would I have to go?”
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.