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Path, park fees questioned for Olive Garden

BAXTER — If you build it, people will come, at least that’s the saying.

On Tuesday, the question before the city of Baxter wasn’t whether a path to Olive Garden should be constructed, but who would pay for it.

Joe Christensen, representing Glory Road Associates, developers of the Olive Garden site, requested the city count a pedestrian connection to Olive Garden as park land dedication, reducing the park fees that come with the development. The city of Baxter has a long-standing practice of not counting pedestrian paths as contributing to park land. In addition, the city — which doesn’t have a sidewalk policy — was faced with the question of who would be responsible for snow removal. The park fees at the Olive Garden restaurant site are $16,879.

“We’re constructing a public improvement for the public,” Christensen said. “We’re not complaining about that. We’ll do that but the argument I have about that is that you can charge us a park fee but you can only charge us once. ... We’re happy to do it, but we think that we are entitled for a credit for this and I think legally the city is obligated.”

Glory Road Associates plans to construct a 12-foot wide path to connect Olive Garden to the Highway 371/Glory Road intersection. Cost of the path is anticipated to be $14,490. Olive Garden requested a concrete path. The use of the word trail was used for the connection, although the city council noted the path to Olive Garden goes only to the restaurant and is not actually part of the nearby regional Paul Bunyan State Trail.

City staff disagreed with using the connection as a credit to offset the park fees. Christensen said he didn’t think the city had legal grounds to charge a park fee and have the developer pay for the connecting path. The city noted it has required connections for pedestrians and bikes for numerous projects requiring special city approval or as planned unit developments, which typically allow greater density with a coordinated design to be more sensitive to the environment and social needs such as pedestrian connections. Those pedestrian connections were made without park fee credits for North Pointe Centre, Essential Health St. Joseph’s-Baxter Clinic, Berrywood and Clearwater apartments, Costco, and others.

In two other cases, the city exchanged park fees for trail construction. The city reported in both of those cases, the 12-foot trail was part of the city’s adopted trail plan. In a third case, a trail was constructed by Central Lakes Properties on the land east of Walmart to complete a segment of the Paul Bunyan State Trail. The city agreed to work with Central Lakes Properties for park fees related to that project and have yet to finalize an amount.

Council member Rob Moser said the path in question Tuesday was directing traffic to Olive Garden from the regional trail system and he was struggling with talking about it as a trail.

“I wish we could have talked about this sooner,” Moser said. “I just see them as different types of trails myself.”

Christensen said there wasn’t a legal requirement to have it be part of a whole trail system. Instead, he said, it was whether the developer was required to put a recreational trail in for the public. The city said their trails are asphalt not concrete, estimated to be 65 percent less.

“My point is you are really hitting us twice here,” Christensen said. “If we build the trail we feel we should get the credit.”

Council member Todd Holman said the city has the authority to impose reasonable access.

“I don’t think of this as two bites of the apple,” Holman said. Previously Holman advocated to have the path or sidewalk connect and go north but he didn’t get support on the council. That conversation fell flat, he said.

Christensen said they talked about extending the trail but wanted to avoid the considerable cost. He said people can travel north through the parking lot.

Mayor Darrel Olson said he thought it was a sidewalk, a benefit to everyone and could be smaller than a 12-foot wide path. But Christensen noted the approved plans show a 12-foot wide path and the ability to change that now is limited.

The city’s concern then centered on the snow removal and the width need to allow its equipment to plow the path. Council member Jim Klein said if Olive Garden wanted the path to their restaurant they’d be obligated to clean it as the city doesn’t plow all the trails now.

Christensen said the path goes for several hundred feet and to pay for it on top of park fees was excessive. Christensen said his purpose was not to make this a big issue or have something on the front page of the paper.

“In my view the way that you are doing this is double dipping,” Christensen said. “In my view this is outside the authority of the city. ... You have the authority to charge us but you have the authority to charge us once.”

City attorney Brad Person said if it wasn’t a planned unit development they wouldn’t be talking about a connection. In the future, as Baxter becomes more urban, the city may be talking about a sidewalk ordinance, Person said. In other cities, there are park fees and sidewalks and it’s not considered double dipping, Person said.

The council met to talk about the issue in a working session before the regular council session and did not take action Tuesday.

“The good news is (Olive Garden)is planning on closing within the next month and breaking ground by the end of April,” Christensen said.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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