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Baxter City Council: Council considers 'green' parking lot for Baxter Village

A preliminary plan from architect Douglas Oldham shows the potential layout for a new development in Baxter south of Baxter Village. Brainerd Dispatch file photo

BAXTER—Baxter City Council members are taking a hard look at green options for infrastructure improvements in Baxter Village—a push by property owners that could represent the city's step into cutting-edge and unprecedented infrastructure technologies for the Upper Midwest.

Council members voted Tuesday, Feb. 19, to conduct a presentation and comment session on proposals for commercial properties at Baxter Village III, the third phase of a commercial development west of Highway 371. The proposal involves a 2.28-acre commercial site of vacant land south of Baxter Village, two buildings with retail, service, banking and the Boulder Tap House restaurant. The original plan called for three phases, but a third building was never constructed. Phase one of Baxter Village was completed in 2005.

Developers will take these comments and may introduce a proposal for council action at a later date—another step in an ongoing process for property owners to secure a conditional use permit from the city and, thus, potentially break ground in April.

At the heart of the issue is the proposal to install an innovative parking surface—while environmentally friendly and purported to perform well—that hasn't been installed in the Midwest, according to city officials.

"Staff spent a lot of time thinking on this one because it's a unique system being proposed," said Josh Doty, director of community development. "There isn't another example of it in Baxter. There isn't another example of this particular surface type anywhere in the Midwest."

The proposal—put forward by Douglas Oldham, of Douglas Oldham Architecture—stipulates developments for Baxter Village III on 14,224 square feet east of Edgewood Drive and west of Highway 371. The idea is to include Edgewood Dental, a dental lab, a shake shop, bakery and salon in the main structure. In the proposal is a plan to include a second building that could possibly be a 2,000-square-foot coffee shop with a drive-thru in the future. At this time, it isn't set in stone just how many business entities will be there, nor how many structures to house them.

Notably, plans include a number of green, or environmentally friendly, features including hydrotech vegetation-covered roofs, solar panels, rainwater collection, a "super" insulated building envelope and low-flow water usage plumbing, among other amenities.

But, perhaps the most significant potential development—and the one garnering the most attention from council members and advocates—is the installation of a new parking lot, constructed with TrueGrid technology. This technology isn't bituminous pavement, nor is it gravel or other materials like concrete. It's 8 inches of densely packed angular gravel placed within and structured with flexible recycled polymer frames jointed together into "pavers."

Together—particularly the hydrotech roof, along with the TrueGrid parking area—the approach is billed as a means to control water runoff in a way that doesn't require the installation of ponds, as comparable properties in Baxter feature to meet city codes.

Oldham characterized the TrueGrid pavers as materials—while technically aggregate or gravel in construction—contained in the polymer pavers in such a way they pose no risk of tracking or spilling gravel in neighboring paved roadways.

"The plastic is extremely strong," Oldham told the council, noting the strength of the polymer pavers. "In fact, it could work without the aggregate. The aggregate is there to create a surface that could be walked on for us."

Oldham said he has not installed the material. TrueGrid, while extensively tested to perform well in adverse conditions, has not been used in Midwestern environs. According to documents by TrueGrid, the material is projected to last about 50 years, or twice as long as the average lifespan of traditional pavement. It's rated to accommodate heavy equipment like freight trucks and fire engines. TrueGrid reports the pavers work in temperatures 60 below to 130 above. It is also compliant for the Americans with Disabilities Act, developers reported.

But, can the material meet statewide stormwater and drainage standards for up to a century? That's a key question, said Doty, who noted the city should explore the matter further to get a better picture of the long-term viability of the TrueGrid pavers. The developer reported the concept has been used in winter climates, including the upstate New York, Colorado and Canada.

Mayor Darrel Olson—who noted council members Todd Holman and Mark Cross, a former city planner and architect respectively, were regrettably absent—expressed concerns about how the material would stand up to winter freeze-thaw cycles and rain deluge scenarios. Without Holman and Cross' expertise, he said he was uncomfortable moving forward without gathering more information from unbiased sources without a stake in the installation.

"I think the problem is that we're not comfortable until we have more information," Olson said. "I don't know. I don't want to prolong the project either, stalling for the sake of stalling isn't worth it."

In light of this and Doty's suggestion, council member Zach Tabatt included a clause in the resolution stating the property developers have to look into alternative, more traditional options to pave the parking lot should newer methods prove impractical by city standards. Oldham, along with other developers, said they were willing to pursue more traditional, safer options if TrueGrid fell through.

Council member Connie Lyscio expressed more confidence in the initiative, but also noted she was open to more information and input from absent council members.

"Right now, I know where I'm at," Lyscio said. "But, I'm a little bit prejudiced, probably a lot prejudiced."