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Baxter City Council hears feedback on proposed 2023 street projects

Baxter met with about 20 residents Dec. 1 in a hearing looking at proposed street and quiet zone improvements for 2023. Many asked the council to postpone.

A man speaks at a podium with the city council in the background
Scott Hedlund, Short Elliott Hendrickson project engineer, provided an overview of the proposed street and quiet crossing project before the Baxter City Council and about 20 residents Dec. 1, 2022, at City Hall.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch
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BAXTER — Meeting on city street assessments that was more conversational than confrontational, several residents requested the city take the current financial picture in mind before moving forward.

Baxter met with about 20 residents Dec. 1 in a hearing looking at proposed street and quiet zone improvements for 2023. The quiet zone applies to railroad crossings, which means changes allowing the train engineer to not blow the horn as a warning at crossings. The quiet zone could be approved within the city next year or early 2024. But most of the discussion centered around the street plans and the City Council’s suggestion to remove an existing trail.

The city reported the work would improve deteriorated street surfaces, improve trail connections, and rehabilitate certain curb and gutter sections and water infrastructure. Scott Hedlund, Short Elliott Hendrickson project engineer, provided an overview of the project and the process of grinding up the existing pavement and recycling it by mixing it with the gravel road base for increased strength and then putting new pavement on top.

The total estimated project cost for the street work, lights with LED upgrades and trails is $5.6 million. Stormwater ponds would be on city property on the north side of Cedar Scenic Road and Oakwood Drive. The probable cost for the 2023 quiet zone improvements is $700,000.

About 39% of the project will be assessed to property owners. The city would pay for trails and traffic safety needed to establish the quiet zones. The city also pays any extra costs for road widths greater than 44 feet in commercial areas or 26 feet in residential neighborhoods. In most cases, the assessments to residential property owners would be per parcel. The project is listed as assessed by an equivalent residential unit, which translates to looking at how many homes can be built on a parcel per current city zoning. So an extra large lot, which could be subdivided and more homes built on it, would be calculated as two equivalent residential units.

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People would have 12 years to pay the assessment. Payments can be collected with property taxes starting in 2024 if the project goes forward. The interest rate won’t be known before an assessment hearing, which is preliminarily scheduled for April 2023.

Residents concerns

A Fox Road resident said the costs to property owners, which will also be passed on to renters, is coming at a time when everyone is dealing with increased expenses and when rental rates are increasing. The man said people are struggling and businesses are still recovering after the pandemic. The road project may not be a bad deal in five years, he said, but doing it now for a small improvement is going to hurt at a time when a lot of families are in a financial crisis. When he was told the cost for the street work will also increase in the future, the man said people will likely be in a better position to pay for it later as interest rates stabilize and the financial picture improves.

“It’s just too much at the worst time for getting a bid,” he said. “You’re paying the highest prices for materials, the highest prices for manual labor that we’ve seen in decades.”

Others noted the project might be nice but wasn’t necessary as the roads they drive on, which in some cases have light use and few residents, aren’t showing wear or potholes.

Howard Bahn, Joler Road resident, pointed to the rise in taxes with the increase in property values and negative factors such as the potential to pay double for heating costs this year and the high cost of materials after COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine. Joler Road, he said, is used by eight or 10 cars per day with roads in worse shape just blocks away. Bahn also spoke about the city plan to remove the trail there saying it is well used by children and people and their dogs.

“And I do want to compliment you guys, you’re doing a lot of things that we need people to do and we appreciate that,” Bahn said. “I like Baxter. I like living in Baxter. I like the trails we have in Baxter.”

With that, Bahn said there is also a difference in roads and road usage, noting there hasn’t been heavy use on Joler Road during its 20-year lifespan. He asked the city to postpone its plan.

During road project discussions there is often talk of how many garbage trucks go by or the school bus wear and tear on roadways and general traffic. Trevor Walter, city engineer and public works director, also pointed to the north end of Cypress Drive, often called the road to nowhere. Walter pointed to the segment toward the dead-end, noting despite light traffic there is still sun bake and time deteriorating the roadway. Walter said the best way to think about it may be related to home maintenance. “Sooner or later, you have to paint your house,” he said.

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The engineers said while the roadway may appear smooth it deteriorates from the bottom up. They pointed to the wait on other streets in order to combine those projects with water and sewer upgrades. As for the trail removal, any road work triggers the need to upgrade the trail to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and for trails with steeper grades, landings would need to be added to make the trail wheelchair accessible.

Chad Rushin, Joler Road, echoed earlier comments about the bad economic time on top of a tax increase and spoke against removing the trail, saying it is used every day.

“We like to live in the city of Baxter,” Rushin said. He told the council his taxes went up 21.5% with a $500 increase for the city this year and the assessment adding another $1,300 per year. “It's becoming unaffordable for an average working family to live here. But I'd urge you to just — second thoughts on timing, I understand at some point, it's going to need to be replaced but it's just not a great time right now.”

A resident from Cedar Scenic Road, who moved there in 2015, said the road has deteriorated so much and looking at the traffic and people walking on the road, he supported this portion of the project adding a trail there.

“I just want to share before the night wraps up, I never looked forward to sessions like this because they're hard,” council member Connie Lyscio said. “They're hard for all of you. And they're difficult for us as well. But I think they're so worthwhile. And I respect your opinion so much. And I hope that you respect the issues that we struggle with, because I never want to feel that it's us against you. Because we all live here.”

In response to an earlier comment from the public, Lyscio added: “I heard someone say, ‘Well, why bother? They've already made up their mind and they're going to do it.’ That's not the case. And all this information sharing is so valuable, I think, certainly for me and hopefully for you as well. Thank you for coming.”

Mayor Darrel Olson thanked the people for their civility during the meeting and the discussion.

“Good input. Great crowd. You’ve given us a lot to think about and we’ll be doing that.”

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Olson said he expected the council would have another workshop session on the information.

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Next steps

The council is expected to make a decision in late December or in early 2023 on whether to order the project. Once the council orders the project, engineers would finish the design and move to the bidding stage. The project could go out for bids in March of next year. Once bids are in, the assessment details will be determined and the city will host another public hearing. If approved, construction could begin in the summer of 2023.

About the proposed project

Street improvements would include:

  • Clearwater Road —Inglewood Drive to Edgewood Drive,
  • Cedar Scenic Road — Oakwood Drive to Memory Wood Drive, 
  • Oakwood Drive — Cedar Scenic Road to Michelle Circle,
  • Joler Road — Briarwood Lane to about 1,520 feet to the southeast and improving the turnaround at the southeast,
  • Forest Drive — Excelsior Road to Clearwater Road, 
  • Fox Road, Forest Drive to about 1,020 feet west,
  • Fox Place, Forest Drive to about 200 feet east. 

All in all, the street segments cover about 3 miles. In addition to the streets, trail extensions on Clearwater Road, from Inglewood Drive to Edgewood Drive and on Cedar Scenic Road, from 200 feet west of Oakwood Drive to Memorywood Drive are also planned, covering about 1.75 miles.
Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.

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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