BAXTER -- In contrast to five days ago, few members of the public showed up at Tuesday's Baxter Planning and Zoning Commission meeting for continued discussion on landscaping for the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter.
On Thursday at least 130 people packed Baxter City Hall as the commission recommended not pursuing an Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter site on Glory Road, between Isle Road and Highway 371, in south Baxter.
With about 20 people in the gallery Tuesday, the commission, by a 2-1 vote, approved recommendations for landscaping, tree height and snow plowing plans for the Wal-Mart Supercenter. Plans were offered and counteroffered during the meeting. Markers were used to add trees and landscape islands to the plans, displayed on an overhead projector. In the end the commission's vote included the addition of the handwritten notes specifying tree heights and the addition of Norway pine to the proposed landscaping.
Voting for the plans were commissioners Ron Matich and Bob Kinzel, who as commission chairman had to break a 1-1 tie vote. Voting against the recommendations was commissioner Bob Ryan.
Commissioners Andy Larson and Rick Wiersgalla were absent from Tuesday's meeting. Baxter City Council member Darrel Olson was present as liaison to the commission.
Main concerns addressed by the commission included trees and trails.
The landscaping plan the commission recommended to the city council for approval included 11 landscaped islands at shopping cart corrals spaced around the Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot. The landscape islands take up four parking stalls and the cart corrals take up two stalls.
Much discussion occurred between the commission and Wal-Mart representatives on the location of the landscaped islands. Ryan wanted landscaped islands by the entrances to the store saying the area would be safer without through traffic or hairpin turns in front of the store. But Wal-Mart representatives said they wanted the area open to create better access for disabled individuals.
"It really comes down to a liability issue with Wal-Mart and their clientele," said Eric Miller, an architect working with Wal-Mart. "We want to avoid possible issues that may arise."
With two handicapped parking areas -- with parallel parking spaces designed for vans included -- near the two entrances to the superstore, the commission recommended putting two landscaped areas on the north side of each of the areas, facing incoming traffic. Wal-Mart is required to have 2 percent of parking stalls designated for handicapped parking. There were also landscaped areas placed throughout the parking lot in order to reduce the east-west view through the parking lot.
In the end, the commission voted for landscaping requirements that include 15- to 20-foot tall trees along the superstore's east and southern edge, screening the view from Highway 371. Eight- to 12-foot trees are expected along the property's west edge facing Isle Road South. Trees, at 15 feet in height, are expected at landscaped cart corral locations. A mix of tree species, at a 10-foot height maximum are expected on the ends of the parking area in front of the store. A 4-foot high landscaped berm is planned on the north end, along Glory Road. Wal-Mart will be responsible for replacing dead trees in perpetuity, according to the city's ordinance.
Todd Holman, Baxter city planner, said rather than smaller trees this project is providing an opportunity.
"There is room to spade in significant tree height," he said, noting Norway or red pine of the height needed are already on the site.
Ed Shaw, chairman of the Coalition for Responsible Development, a group that has been fighting the location of a superstore in Crow Wing County, said commission members backed away from landscaping concerns it discussed at Thursday's planning and zoning commission meeting.
Shaw, referencing the public meetings when Home Depot proposed locating in Baxter, cited a quote from those meetings from John Sullivan, the developer who sold the land to Home Depot. Sullivan is selling the land for the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter. Shaw noted Sullivan said Home Depot would be the first store in Baxter with a "north woods" look, that it would blend in to the surroundings. That didn't happen, Shaw said.
"I think you have your answer as to how 'north woods' this is going to look," said Shaw of the landscaping requirements recommended by the commission for council approval.
The commission also recommended allowing Wal-Mart to store snow within its parking lot as long as enough spaces were kept open to meet the requirements of Baxter's parking space ordinance. Wal-Mart plans call for 1,439 parking spaces, about 200 more than the city requires. Wal-Mart representatives said further landscaping in the parking lots would begin to cut down the parking spaces to a concerning level.
David Paul, a Baxter resident who lives on Perch Lake, said he would like to see the snow stored in a place that wouldn't reduce normal runoff into the lake.
Also during the public comment portion of the meeting, Baxter resident John Berg, who lives in the area of the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter, expressed concerns that Wal-Mart not store items on the outside of its building. Darcy Winter, a Minneapolis real estate agent representing Wal-Mart, said Wal-Mart would be constructing a screen on the southeast corner of the building, built of the same material as the Wal-Mart store.
Berg also expressed concern with the Baxter segment of the Paul Bunyan Trail that currently runs along Glory Road. With Wal-Mart's entrance and exit proposed to be on Glory Road, he said the traffic could be a hazard for people using the trail. Berg said getting across will be like trying to bike across Washington Street. Daily estimated traffic at the superstore's location is 15,500 vehicles with about 1,200 vehicles expected during the peak hour of 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
"It's a bit of a spooky area," said Berg. "You're not sure whether traffic is going to see or even yield to you." Berg wondered about an underpass system.
Baxter City Planner Todd Holman noted that part of the agreement with Wal-Mart would be that they build a new section of trail along Highway 371, and that might alleviate some of the trail traffic.
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