Baxter City Council: Votes in favor of city zone change, hears opposition from residents
BAXTER -- The Baxter City Council voted in favor of zoning map changes to redesignate portions of the city to account for growth and future development -- but not without vocal opposition from a number of residents on roads at the heart of the issue.
Ultimately, while council members expressed sympathy for these property owners, they noted it was about making choices for the long-term future of the city and its development, not hogtying future councils for the sake of short-term interests and more insular, individual needs.
“I think the reality is that our city, our staff and our commissions have done everything procedurally correct to get public opinion,” council member Todd Holman said. “I know that doesn’t get into everybody’s living room. … I don’t know how my fellow council members feel, but I have to put my support behind a multi-year, multi-commission and engagement process, the 20, 30-year side of the argument. We have to move forward.”
For his part, council member Mark Cross said he was not in favor of implementing a 10-acre minimum for lots instead of the current 5, nor stipulating the option to install stormwater and sewer lines in these “end-of-the-line neighborhoods” when there’s no plans to develop there as yet. He added it’s difficult to predict just what developments, or external annexations and rulings, may affect these properties, which necessitates somewhat open and flexible property designations.
City Attorney Brad Person characterized the resolutions as aligning city zones with the five-year comprehensive plan staffers, committees and council members settled upon to account for Baxter’s growth and development in coming years -- not, he noted, a definitive signal to construct sewer and stormwater amenities in these more rural lots, or to instigate developments of any kind.
However, a vocal group of critics -- roughly 25-30 people, many of them from Ashley Road in southwest Baxter -- described the remapping as an impasse between the city and its constituents. About 10 attendees discussed the resolutions at length with the council, altogether speaking for more than an hour.
Namely, streets like Ashley Road look to switch their designation to residential staging, which may incur the “transition to further urban development with public utilities, roads, facilities and services” down the road.
“We do not want city water. We do not want city sewage,” said Lowell Smith, a resident of Ashley Road. “To put in city water and sewage, by footage, would be worth more than the house that I have.”
As such, residents noted a 10-acre minimum may force property owners to take on unsustainable assessments, as they cannot subdivide the property or sell-off/lease portions to offset these high assessments.
On the other hand, residents said, while property owners may have put in 10, 20, or 30-plus years of investments into their properties, rezoning and raising the minimum lot sizes may decrease property value and render most development unfeasible as city ordinance is currently written.
As Community Development Director Josh Doty told the council, the main areas of the map that looked to be changed include:
The replacement of the commercial forest district with a rural-residential district.
The revision of the residential staging district to have a minimum lot size of 10 acres.
The establishment of a new medium density residential district with areas allocated for denser, single-family residential properties over larger low-density lots.
And to amend all of the applicable sections of the city code and zoning ordinance that relate to these changes so they are reflected in the statutes.
Council members Connie Lyscio, Zach Tabatt, Cross, Holman and Mayor Darrel Olson all voted in favor.