BAXTER — Baxter City Council reviewed the sketch plan for Sprucewood townhomes on Grand Oaks Drive but hesitated regarding a tax-increment financing request.
Sprucewood is a proposed 34-unit townhome project of planned unit development (PUD) on 8.1 acres southwest of Grand Oaks Drive. The land is the site of the former Grand Haven project, which called for two 50-unit apartment buildings with underground parking. That project didn’t happen. Now a proposal is for an eight-unit building, a 12-unit building, and a 14-unit building. The project is with Kuepers Architects and Builders.
The council reviewed the sketch and referred the application for review by the appropriate city commissions. Council member Mark Cross, an architect with Kuepers, abstained from the vote. But Cross did discuss the application from the council table. The council did not take official action on the second request for tax-increment financing (TIF).
Council member Todd Holman said he didn’t view it as a simple action replacing the current proposal for a previous one that didn’t get funding. Holman said this project represented a new discussion and no application was before the council at the present time.
Cross said it was literally the same project on another piece of property, noting the development was after a TIF concept commitment letter saying the city would be willing to work with them. Holman said while it was listed as a TIF request there really wasn’t one before the city to review beyond a concept. The application for the original project came before the city for conceptual approval previously. Administrator Gordon Heitke also questioned if the prior conceptual approval transferred to the new site, noting his concern was this new concept was slightly different and coming at a different time. Holman said previous approval shouldn’t be presumed for the new project.
The first Sprucewood project began with a letter of support for the tax application and TIF limit if it went forward. It needed tax credits with the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to move forward. This new application is in a similar situation at the new site.
Council member Jim Klein asked how the council could support something without knowing the particulars. Klein said he could support the council considering it. For the applicant the question was whether to go forward as well without city support.
Holman said the council needs to consider the big view of the community’s greatest housing needs before it chooses to subsidize this project
Holman asked if this is a correct place for the city to focus incentive.
“I feel the same way,” said Council member Rob Moser. “Somebody mentioned it earlier — it’s a different time.”
Cross said these types of projects are decided on points and Baxter received extra points for a time as a top-growth city, but as points change options will be more limited. Cross said the question is if the city wants more low-income townhome projects and without incentives there are examples like Baxter Woods of projects that didn’t go through.
The discussion is expected to return to the council at its Jan. 15 meeting when letters of support, if they were provided, would be needed for a funding Jan. 29 deadline.
In other business, the council:
■ Heard from Crow Wing County Engineer Tim Bray. Bray said he was on a sabbatical for a year recently and was meeting with about 50 cities and townships to reintroduce himself. Bray was actually serving the country in Afghanistan. He passed out a copy of the five-year plan and talked about the need to improve Inglewood Drive north of Woida in Unorganized Territory.
Holman complimented Bray and county highway assistant and interim department leader Rob Hall for being available for conversations with bike users.
“Your willingness to listen I so appreciate,” Holman said.
Bray said he is looking for feedback on how the county highway department is through an online survey at www.co.crow-wing.mn.us/index.aspx?nid=113 but hasn’t had much success to date.
■ Voted to advise Little Yukon garden center its intent not to renew the interim use permit for flower/plant sales off Dellwood Drive. The vote 4-1 with Klein opposed followed a planning and zoning commission recommendation noting there have been sign violations of the permit’s terms.
■ Had one of its biggest discussions about an item not on the agenda. Klein said there were boards missing from hockey rink at Oskar Kristofferson Park and he asked the parks department to do something and it wasn’t done. Klein said it represented a safety hazard to have the boards down and he wanted to direct parks to install the boards when the ice rink was open. Public Works Director Trevor Walter said the rink attendants put the boards up when hockey is played but leave them down to access the rink for flooding and allow skaters an easier way to get on and off the ice. The boards are kept in the warming house. The boards had been missing in previous years but were used last winter, Walter said.
Holman said he was disappointed and embarrassed to have this discussion at the council level without being on the agenda and when supervisors or the administrator could take care of it. Holman said the city has an exemplary staff and the council shouldn’t be managing day-to-day measures the staff is able to handle like professionals.
Klein said he didn’t disagree, but he brought the subject up at the parks department and he contends the boards were never put up last year and he did talk to the administrator who told him staff wasn’t willing to budge. Klein said he thought it was a liability and tried to solve it but staff won’t follow his suggestion so he was bringing it forward. The council took no action. Heitke said staff isn’t infallible and the council members may certainly bring things to their attention but perhaps there should be a process when one individual has a difference of opinion on a liability that may not be the view of the entire council.
■ Approved a development agreement for Berrywood Apartments Phase 3. Steve Kuepers is the chief manager.
■ Approved an agreement with animal control enforcement services for 2013.
■ Approved the purchase of safety equipment for the tactical team members.
■ Agreed to purchase of seven 800 megahertz radios for public works.
■ Adjourned to 8 a.m. Friday for a grand opening event at Discount Tire.