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Property owner asks Baxter council to hear concerns he said fell on deaf ears at planning commission

BAXTER — Thomas Bercher went to the Baxter’s Planning and Zoning Commission and said he felt no one was listening.

Wednesday he took his objections to the city council.

“It was not a good meeting,” Bercher said of his variance request before the planning commission. “It was fairly apparent none of them had looked at this before the meeting.”

Bercher was requesting to use gravel or Class V instead of pavement for a private road to land off Cedar Scenic Road. The land in question covers 40 acres and has two existing single family homes.

The request for the variance came with conditions Bercher felt had little to do with his petition to use gravel instead of pavement, a choice that was roundly agreed upon by city officials.

Bercher said he was meeting all city ordinances designed to protect the city, but was being asked to meet additional conditions regarding what might happen in the future.

Staff and the Utilities Commission agreed to add a condition to the variance request that no further structures or land divisions on the land would be permitted unless a subdivision plat was completed. Bercher said he may want to split off a farm house portion of the land on 15 acres in five years and do it without the need for a plat, which he didn’t understand adding to a request for a gravel road.

Bercher said he felt some of the conditions were unreasonable, including one stating the private road could be used for the two existing homes and no additional homes could use it unless the subdivison was platted per Baxter’s regulations. Bercher noted he currently lives on a much smaller road that serves more residents.

Council member Todd Holman said he was having trouble connecting the request to use gravel instead of paving for a private road and need to impose platting. Holman said if Bercher had wanted to pave the road he could have gotten an over-the-counter permit and there wouldn’t have been a question about a plat but since he asked for a lesser standard it seemed to open the door for additional conditions.

“I can’t make that connection so I’m not thinking it’s a valid condition,” Holman said.

Council member Rob Moser and Mark Cross agreed. Council members noted plans to create smaller parcels would require a future petition to come back before the council anyway. And at most, Cross said fully developed the land at five-acre parcels would have eight homes. Moser said having all the homes access Cedar Scenic off one access road may be more desirable than mulitiple driveways anyway.

In reading the minutes, Mayor Darrel Olson said he understood the idea to mean in terms of future road and and utility needs as the city develops.

“The best time to talk about the future is right now,” Olson said, adding he understands that part of it and role of looking at the specific variance request. The additional conditions were discretionary but within the legal realm of possibilites, said Brad Person, city attorney.

City Administrator Gordon Heitke said it appears the focus on platting was a way to try to restrict the number of residents using the road.

In the end, the council removed the conditions Bercher most objected to for the platting requirement and limiting the private road access to two residences.

Bercher left the council with one suggestion. He said Cass County has the best system for variances and the planning commission goes and looks at the site before the meeting so they know where it is and what conditions are. After that, Bercher said the meetings go by quickly with a clear cut idea of whether the vote should be in favor or against.

In other business, the council:

Started the first meeting of the year by swearing in Mayor Darrel Olson, and Council members Todd Holman and Mark Cross, all who were re-elected and now begin their new four-year terms.

Approved the Widseth Smith Nolting proposal for right-of-way acquisition and platting services for Dellwood Drive and Novotny Road.

Met in a joint session with the Utilities Commission to talk about infrastructure such as the south sanitary sewer interceptor project.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

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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