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BAXTER CITY COUNCIL: Tower dominating Baxter skyline may be coming down

BAXTER — The cell tower by Kohl’s in Baxter may be coming down in June. 

Sometimes called the Eiffel Tower, the massive structure stands out in the Baxter business district. But its days appear numbered. Tuesday the Baxter City Council heard the Minnesota Department of Transportation plans to remove the tower. 

The process may mean closing Golf Course Drive, between Fairview and Excelsior roads by Kohl’s and Mill’s car wash for two to three days. Council members Rob Moser, Todd Holman, Jim Klein and Mark Cross, all expressed concern how it would affect the businesses and commercial traffic.

Because of safety concerns, the council heard the tower’s removal could mean a need to shut down shopping and traffic in the area for specified times. The council approved having staff work with MnDOT and negotiating conditions so the street is not damaged and to address concerns of neighboring businesses. Serious concerns were expected to trigger a no answer from the council regarding the street closing. 

Mayor Darrel Olson was ill and absent from Tuesday’s meeting. 

In other business, the council:

Heard an update from Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl in his yearly visit to the city. Dahl said the county is going from two Sentence to Service crews to one because of financial concerns, meaning one crew leader will be dropped. Dahl praised the STS effort which puts low-risk offenders to work, such as community cleanup projects, and lets them work off jail time. Dahl praised cooperative efforts across law enforcement departments in drug enforcement. 

“We’re working together,” Dahl said. “We’re solving crimes.”

Klein said the recent shooting in Baxter is “sobering and disturbing” and he couldn’t remember a similar incident in 30 years. “What can we do as a community to alleviate this?”

Dahl said there are no boundaries for drugs.

“I think we are doing what we should be doing,” Dahl said. “We’re making solid cases and putting people in jail for them and that’s what we want to do.”

Dahl said the influx of more people to the area brings everything else and law enforcement is trying to be as proactive as possible.

Awarded the contract to Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. of Bolingbrook, Ill. in amount $2,038,000 for the elevated water storage tower. 

Directed staff to get quotes to have Water Treatment Plant No. 2 permanently disconnected from the drinking water system per Minnesota Department of Health recommendations. Use of the water treatment plant was discontinued in 2007. The department of health was concerned the water treatment plant could potentially discharge into the water system if it was still connected. 

Approved acquisition of land at the corner of Cypress Drive and Greenwood Road to be used for the future Cypress Drive planned extension. Klein suggested waiting, noting the economy. But Cross said while these are uncertain times, the city can’t abandon all its plans. Moser and Holman agreed. Holman noted the favorable market. 

Approved the Paul Bunyan Bowl Farewell Event planned July 8-9. 

Approved the addition of two streetlights on the bike and pedestrian trail between Welton Road and the Whipple Beach recreational facility for park lighting and security. The city reports the park has lights on all trails and sidewalks within its boundaries.

Accepted a $3,000 challenge grant and tabled spending $2,800 to purchase a digital squad camera system and tabled spending $2,400 from drug forfeiture money to upgrade rifle systems. Klein said he was concerned about the city’s 20 percent share of the costs for the new 800 megahertz radios. The city has budgeted about $15,000 for the cost, but at present Dahl said what the total will be is an unknown. 

Presented the results of Community Development Director Bill Deblon’s performance evaluation on Feb. 24 as part of the city council’s agenda packet.

In initial comments, Cross said his concerns with Deblon’s work were level of consistency in applying ordinances, and conditions approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission being changed before they come to the council. 

Klein said he’d received comments that things are not getting done and that communications are not getting the prompt responses they deserve. 

Holman said his concerns were with inconsistent zoning ordinance administration, lack of preparedness and situation awareness. Holman said he recognized that part of the position is regulatory and can be unpopular, but from what he is hearing from the public and developers there are concerns beyond that which need to be looked at . 

Moser said he has observed questionable organizational skills. 

Deblon, in addressing the council, distributed several pieces of information highlighting his activities, contributions, accomplishments and other work as community development director. Deblon’s comments, according to the minutes of the meeting, covered the documents, how hard he has worked for the city, some difficult pre-existing circumstances he assumed when he began his position and personal family issues.

The council unanimously voted to continue the performance review in order for Olson and City Administrator Gordon Heitke to conduct further review and bring a recommendation back to the council at a later date. Deblon was not present at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Eliminated a May 25 workshop meeting, which will be rescheduled later. 

Set a 7 p.m. June 1 council meeting to review future city financial plans.