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Baxter City Council: Dondelinger request for sign variance gets city approval

BAXTER — A survey error, discovered late in the process, had Dondelinger auto dealership requesting a variance for a free-standing sign.

Dondelinger auto is moving north to the corner of highways 371 and 77 and is currently building a new facility at that corner.

Mike Carpenter, Rice Lake Construction Group project manager, spoke for the Dondelinger project.

The problem arose when a survey apparently used the wrong marker to establish a setback for the business’ illuminated sign. By the time the error was discovered, the parking lot was completed, lights installed and sign foundation started.

Moving the sign back from the green space to the parking lot would mean removing existing parking lot. Leaving the sign and granting the variance, means the sign is 60 feet from the edge of Highway 371.

Carpenter said if they had realized the error earlier they would have designed it differently to meet the requirement.

The city’s planning commission voted to deny the request.

Bill Deblon, city planner, said staff overlooked the drainage and utility easement earlier and the planning commission struggled with the decision.

“It was a herculean effort,” Deblon said of the city’s effort to fast track the project with the business. “There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen and there was a snafu. ... It’s complicated.”

Carpenter said being able to leave the sign where it was originally planned will allow better landscaping option and he questioned if few people would notice the difference.

Deblon said the question for the city is how many other businesses along the corridor would also like being five feet closer to Highway 371 with their signs. And Deblon said the utility easement is there to allow for future needs, such as fiber optic installation.

“I think it’s unfortunate but I don’t have a problem allowing this to occur,” Council member Rob Moser said of granting the variance in this particular case given the sequence of events.

Council members Jim Klein and Mark Cross agreed. As did council member Todd Holman, who said in this case everyone was working off the incorrect survey creating a practical difficulty now, a difference than wanting to be closer to the highway.

“I typically stand hard by setbacks but I’m compelled by the sequence of events,” Holman said, adding the line moved at the last hour and didn’t create safety or practical difficulties. “I’m in favor of leaving it where it is.”

City Attorney Brad Person said it would be the same as any structure in the easement as the variance notes if there is a need in the future the structure may need to be torn down. Person said as far as a precedent, the difficulty was not created by the developer and found after the parking lot was completed. If someone manufactured a mistake to cheat on a setback that would be a different case, but with the Dondelinger property — with a lot of land available and a highly visible corner — Person said he didn’t think that was the case.

Mayor Darrel Olson said there was hesitation at the planning commission as they tried to figure out the right way to handle the situation.

The council approved the variance request.

Viking Land Harley-Davidson received the nod from the city of Baxter for permits, paving the way for the motorcycle business to move into space the auto dealership is moving.

“We want to do things to improve the look and feel of that area,” said Gary Walton, Viking Land Harley-Davidson principle.

Viking Land is opening an operation in the Dondelinger auto dealership on Highway 210 across from SuperOne Foods.

The city approved variances for Viking Land to reduce the required setbacks, from 10 feet to 4 feet for the south side and from 40 feet to 29 feet for the north side and from 10 feet to zero for the existing parking lot on the north and south sides.

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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