Big or small? Rural or urban? Baxter considers future development and lot sizes
BAXTER - Looking at assessment costs for streets and city services, Baxter is also considering its own identity.
That identity came with large lots as homeowners spread out in neighborhoods that didn't have city services for water and sewer.
Now a concern comes from resident requests to consolidate smaller platted lots into one, or requests to build on the undeveloped lots next to their homes. For Baxter, a city looking at assessments of $14,000 or more for property owners, it has raised the subject of affordability and development density. For the Woida, Wildflower, Franklin trio of street, water and sewer projects, the city agreed to take on more of the cost to keep the project in reach of residents.
Now with a platted area of the city near Whipple Beach designed to have smaller lots, in this case 18 of them, the city is receiving requests to consolidate smaller lots into one. There are also requests from residents with multiple lots to be able to build on lot lines or add accessory structures.
In an agreement earlier this month in the Whipple Beach area, the city required the homeowner to agree if street, water or sewer improvements were made the new lot would be assessed as though it were still two lots and not one.
Baxter has density requirements, but the city's ordinance is silent on the subject of a minimum lot size.
Now the city is receiving requests to consolidate smaller lots into one. In some cases residents want to build garages, secondary driveway or parking, accessory structures, even basketball courts. In two recent cases near Whipple Beach, a family wanted to consolidate two properties into one and another wanted to be able to build a garage on the lot line.
Council member Todd Holman said when the city approved the Noahs Addition to Baxter it determined it was sustainable with the 18 lots anticipated. Not all have been built on at this point. Being asked to "deviate from the formula is really a cost to the whole city," Holman said.
The smaller lots are on either side of Springwood Drive, which is north of Clearwater Road.
Mayor Darrel Olson said the city has every size of lot known to man.
"If you want a bigger lot to build a bigger house buy a bigger lot and build a bigger house instead of taking two lots that were probably meant for starter type houses in the first place," Olson said. "We have some big lots available around town."
Olson said the plat was accepted with smaller lots and he thinks it should stay that way. If people don't want to buy those sizes there are other options in the city, he added.
After the housing meltdown and recession, land prices may be making it more feasible for people to buy two smaller lots instead of a larger existing one. Holman said there are any number of scenarios that can make the city look bad for allowing a garage to be built on a lot line.
While the city can address the financial impact or loss with an agreement, Administrator Gordon Heitke said it hasn't covered itself for the lost tax base by about 50 percent that goes to pay for things like police coverage and road maintenance.
Heitke said in an ideal situation in a case of the garage, the homeowner satisfied immediate needs while preserving the ability to sell the extra lot or build on it in the future and the city preserving the tax base. But for another request to consolidate two undeveloped lots, the city has nothing in place to say a home should be shifted to one lot or the other to preserve future development.
"People want bigger lots," said council member Jim Klein. "That's a large selling point. It's an attraction to Baxter. If you want a small lot move to Brainerd and have a 40-foot wide lot."
Heitke said in the subdivision on Springwood Drive you can see the uniform design and there is equity there in terms of all the costs including assessments. Holman added in areas where the city is planning sewer, water and street improvements, continuing to allow people to create large lots means costs must be recovered either by increasing rates or increasing the levy.
It's a shift, Holman said, meaning people who want to deviate from the designed plats are really asking the rest of the city's 8,000 residents to pay more across the board.
"The larger lot is basically getting subsidized," Heitke said.
If the council wanted to change it, maximum lot sizes could be set. City attorney Brad Person said if the city lets people build willy-nilly or in a careless and unplanned way instead of planning ahead it makes it hard to extend water and sewer in an affordable way. It also raises questions for transportation and road location plans. City Planner Josh Doty said there have been a lot of discussions on where is the urban area of the city and the rural portion. Zoning districts could account for a lot of the concerns, Doty said.
Council member Rob Moser said he likes the variation in lot sizes in the city. He said he hadn't thought about the tax base implications.
"We all understand they make challenges for us," Moser said. "I think that makes Baxter unique."
If the recession hadn't hit, Moser said, these lots would have been developed and hooking up to city services as platted, but in the interim now the city has challenges.
"My gut is saying just to deal with them as they come in," Moser said. "... I don't know if I'm ready to make a maximum lot size. It's so different from we've been thinking all along. I do understand the challenges and the issues you are bringing up but I don't know if we need to react that way yet."