BAXTER - Residents of Grand Oaks Drive opposed to the location of a state-run psychiatric hospital on their street will be taking their case to the Baxter City Council.
The residents of Grand Oaks Drive intend at a Jan. 3 meeting to ask the Baxter City Council to reconsider a previous decision to rezone a 2-acre piece of property on Grand Oaks Drive that would allow the construction of the hospital.
In a letter to Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson, Grand Oaks Drive resident Steve Schaitberger said his fellow Grand Oaks Drive residents are opposed to the construction of a psychiatric hospital for three reasons: risk to public safety, lack of long-range planning by the city and the psychiatric hospital itself.
Schaitberger wrote that Grand Oaks Drive residents would prefer to see the psychiatric hospital on property specifically zoned for hospitals - a zoning Baxter currently does not have.
He wrote that ideal spots he has found include the former Pine Meadows Golf Course, the Baxter Industrial Park and near the Wal-Mart Supercenter.
"We don't want to ban the hospital. We want it in a hospital zone where residents can purchase a home next to it if they chose versus having one built in an established neighborhood...," Schaitberger wrote.
"I think the whole council can appreciate where they're coming from," Olson said.
The Baxter City Council can reconsider its rezoning decision. If it does not reverse its earlier decision, opponents can appeal the zoning through district court.
The state-run psychiatric hospital would be one of 10 across the state that will be used as the older, larger regional service centers such as Brainerd Regional Human Services Center and Ah-Gwah-Ching in Walker are eliminated.
Other smaller psychiatric hospitals will be built in Bemidji, Wadena, Alexandria, St. Cloud and Fergus Falls.
There will be 30 full-time staffers at the hospital and patients will stay an average of 20 to 30 days. It will be a locked hospital and patients will only be allowed outside in a fenced-in area.
Conditions placed on the psychiatric hospital include the installation of security cameras; the formation of a neighborhood advisory committee; the construction of a 10-foot high, non-climbable fence in the rear area of the building; that the facility will not be used as a detox or chemical dependency center; that pedophiles or other patients with a sexual-related diagnosis will not receive treatment for such illnesses at the hospital; and that the facility will not provide services to anyone who needs to receive an evaluation to determine ability to stand trial, or need to be treated to stand trial, or that have been committed as mentally ill and dangerous, or sexual psychopathic personality or a sexual dangerous person.
An original application for the hospital was for a site on Clearwater Road near Highway 371. After several neighboring residents complained the council tabled that application so the developers could pursue the Grand Oaks Drive site, which is located less than a mile to the southwest.
At its Sept. 20 council meeting the council amended its zoning ordinance to allow hospitals, sanitariums, rest and nursing homes only in property zoned office space, which matched the Clearwater Road site. Previously such uses were only allowed in high-density residential areas.
Council members earlier expressed preference to the Grand Oaks Drive site, which was zoned high-density residential, because it is surrounded by wetlands and undeveloped properties. The site is now zoned for office space, thus allowing a psychiatric hospital.
City Planner Greg Wagner said the developers of the psychiatric hospital, Alexandria-based Utopia Properties, have not submitted a plat for consideration by the city.
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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