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Baxter City Council approves YMCA day care at Camp Vanasek

Earlier this month, the Baxter City Council agreed to purchase the Camp Vanasek property from Crow Wing County. The camp on Whipple Lake traces its roots back to 1952 and leases the space.

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The Baxter City Council meets Tuesday, Aug. 17, at Baxter City Hall. Screenshot

BAXTER — An ordinance amendment to allow a day care as an interim use was granted Tuesday, Aug. 17, giving the Brainerd Family YMCA an opportunity to operate a day care at Camp Vanasek year-round.

Camp Vanasek is partnering with the YMCA, which is operating a child care summer camp. The YMCA has been using the camp facility, on Oakwood Drive, for the last couple of summers, the city noted, mostly because of COVID-19.

While the summer camp has been in operation for decades, the interim use request provided city staff with an opportunity to identify all potential items that could be cleaned up from a zoning perspective, Community Development Director Josh Doty told the council Tuesday. Operating a day care for the fall, winter and spring months at the camp was considered a change in the camp use and would be in a location where urban utilities are not available, triggering the zoning amendment and interim use permit to allow the business to conform with the ordinance over time.

Some of the improvements include fire hydrants, connecting to urban utilities and permits to abandon the septic system and well. Utilities are just north of the property currently.

Doty said to be in compliance with the zoning ordinance, utilities need to be brought to the site but how that could happen wasn’t defined at this point.

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The zoning ordinance requires paved parking facilities and paved parent drop-off/pick up facilities, which in turn includes a need to have cleared areas for stormwater treatment ponds. Improvements would require meeting the landscaping ordinance and any site lighting would also need to meet the city requirements. The site would also need to meet all building and fire codes and water and sewer hook-up fees, among other items.

RELATED: Baxter City Council agrees to purchase Camp Vanasek property from Crow Wing County
On Aug. 10, Doty told the Baxter Planning and Zoning Commission the YMCA requested five years to bring the camp into compliance for zoning. At the planning commission, Shane Riffle, YMCA CEO, said the YMCA is going through big changes and going into capital gains, according to the meeting minutes. Four area child care sites are in the current YMCA, there is a purchase agreement for a second Brainerd location, a sports complex and camp, the commission meeting minutes note.

Riffle stated the YMCA planned to put significant money into the camp for improvements and it shouldn’t take long to resolve concerns.

The planning commission noted concerns for the added number of children in terms of traffic and safety at the camp and how the commercial septic system is being used, noting the septic mound area has been used as an area of recreation with volleyball nets set up there though there is a need to keep the earth at the site from being compacted.

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The camp was started by the Brainerd Campfire Girls in 1952 and dedicated to Marlena Vanasek. Crow Wing County has the fee title to the property, which is in the city of Baxter. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Earlier this month, the Baxter City Council agreed to purchase the Camp Vanasek property from Crow Wing County. The camp on Whipple Lake traces its roots back to 1952 and leases the space. At the commission meeting, Riffle told the commission there are 11 years left on the camp lease. Because of COVID-19, there weren't any weddings or get-togethers at the camp last year. Now Riffle reported the YMCA handles all rental requests for the camp and has complete control over scheduling with the Lions organization, longtime camp sponsors, still meeting there monthly.

The YMCA had a summer camp at Camp Vanasek in 2020 and 2021 after the city approved an exception to allow the use during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency.

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In the planning commission meeting minutes, Riffle indicated they wanted to improve the camp as a learning camp for school children, offer much needed day care and provide a place for those who just wanted to enjoy the surroundings. This summer, there were 160 children making use of the camp, Riffle told the commission, noting the children are in grade school up to sixth grade.

The commission recommended adding an option for the city to review the interim use permit to evaluate if the original intent and function is maintained and if it is determined the use materially changed, revocation of the permit could be recommended to the city council.

At the city council meeting Tuesday, Riffle thanked the council for the process and said he learned a lot. At the Y, Riffle said they nurture the potential of every child.

“With this property, you know, it feels like we are kind of doing the same out there, nurturing the potential of Camp Vanasek and what it might be so that we can serve more kids throughout the community,” Riffle said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the interim use.

Council member John Ward was absent.

In other business, the council:

Approved a special event permit for the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event at Mills Ford. The event helps to raise funds and awareness against domestic abuse. Sexual Assault Services sponsors the annual event, which is from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The event includes a short walk on Edgewood Drive, meaning a temporary closure to through traffic on Edgewood Drive from Woida Road south to the entrance at Aldi Foods. Baxter reported about 200 people are expected to attend and the event has taken place for about 15 years without issue or complaint.

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Approved a temporary on-sale liquor licence for the Oct. 2 Brainerd Jaycees special event at Camp Vanasek. The event will be in partnership with the Brainerd Family YMCA, which has applied for a special event permit at that time. The community event will include activities, food and music.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.

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Camp Vanasek is south of the Whipple Beach recreation area in Baxter. Contributed.

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Camp Vanasek is south of the Whipple Beach recreation area in Baxter. Contributed.

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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