Baxter offers feedback on proposal for gateway development

The sketch review allows developers to bring in ideas and gain feedback from city officials before they consider going further down a path for the plan.

Topography map showing area of potential development
The blue-shaded square marks the land developers are considering. Fortress Holdings was recently before the Baxter City Council looking for feedback involving a mixed-use development for business and apartment buildings. Highway 371 is visible on the upper left. The smaller intersection at the top of the shaded box marks Hastings Road and Evergreen Drive South. The land is southeast of the Walmart Supercenter Store.
Contributed / City of Baxter.

BAXTER — A preliminary plan to add a residential option to the city’s business gateway district gained an early nod from the Baxter City Council.

The sketch review allows developers to bring in ideas and gain feedback from city officials before they consider going further down a path for the plan. Matt Davis, one of the owners of Fortress Holdings and listed as chief operating officer, has been attending a series of city commission meetings with the proposal of a mixed-use development of business and apartment buildings on 38 acres at the southwest corner of Hastings Road and Evergreen Drive in Baxter. The land is just southeast of Highway 371 and west of Evergreen Drive. The sketch plan includes four three-story apartment buildings with 70 units each. Current zoning for the property is office service, which does not allow for residential use beyond nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and hospitals or similar places.

Site plan outlines buildings for proposed development
The sketch plan for Fortress Holdings notes commercial buildings apartment buildings with underground parking and a storage building for tenants.
Contributed / City of Baxter

The land now is largely undeveloped with a mix of wooded uplands and wetlands, which are also a flood plain. Neighboring acreage was the subject of previous development ideas before the city council. Davis brought the proposal to the City Council Tuesday, May 16. The sketch plan review gives developers the chance to get nonbinding feedback from the city before going forward and investing more into the project. The land in question is in the city’s southern gateway. Baxter spent time previously looking at opportunities with undeveloped land to consider what kind of first impression or entrances to the city they could provide. The business gateway districts, discussed and planned going back to 2014 but not established, were to serve as guides to that first impression on high traffic corridors with retail and light industrial. The official city description states, “The Business Gateway land use is intended to provide for office, light industrial and limited retail uses that create a high quality, attractive ‘north woods’ image at the City’s southeast and west gateways on Highways 371 and 210.”

The Fortress development plan added high density residential with the apartment buildings.

In the proposed development, there are two commercial/industrial buildings, or 25,400 square feet and 16,400 square feet, for a flooring/cabinetry outlet showroom and warehouse, and loading docks. And then four apartment buildings and a storage building along Evergreen Drive dedicated to the apartment complex residents. Plans call for underground parking. The apartment buildings were shown along Hastings Road and Evergreen Drive.


Josh Doty, community development director, presented an overview for the council, noting the city’s traffic study of the area would need to be reviewed for the proposed development looking at design, access to vehicles and pedestrians and how traffic would move on the site. City water and sewer, which is along Hastings Road, would need to be extended to the development site and then extended farther south for any future development.

In the report to the council, staff noted the four proposed apartment buildings would have residential land surrounded by non-residential land use, or what could be considered spot zoning. Development plans are typically guided by transitioning from more intense land use to less or from high density to lower density. To add the apartment mix, developers would need to get a comprehensive plan amendment and staff noted they found no justification for a comprehensive plan change to high density residential use there.

One of the comments from the commissions was to have the 50 storage unit doors on two long buildings face inward and be screened from Evergreen Drive. Staff also noted while the developer may want to remove trees between the commercial buildings along Highway 371 for visibility, the gateway district discussed the importance of preserving trees along Highway 371 to maintain the present character of the corridor. Another comment noted from the city’s commissions was a desire to attempt to retain some of the trees in the area where the apartments were proposed.

In written remarks, the developers proposed the flooring and cabinetry business with additional space for a tenant in a similar business.

“We currently are in talks with a major appliance business for this space,” developers stated. “It is our plan for this to be the first permit pulled for the property with construction beginning before 9-1-23. The next building to the east is planned as a similar use type and will be built out as tenant agreements demand. The next buildings to the east and south are 3 story apartment buildings with underground parking.

“It is our vision that these would be primarily for the massive need our community has for workforce housing. These will be a slightly modified plan that our partners recently built in New Market MN. (just south of the cities). These will be very aesthetically pleasing with an updated more modern look similar to the new builds in the cities. It is our plan to start construction on the NE most apartment building in October 2023.”

According to the plan, the other apartment buildings would be phased in with construction in 2025 and 2026 as long as demand allowed.

“This location also is very convenient for its residents to utilize our area businesses. Not yet shown on our concept plan but part of our vision would be to create nature walking trails through the high and low land to the south and west of our property.


“This would be great if these trails could also tie into the upcoming roundabout at Forestview Dr. and Highland Scenic which would then connect to that trail system to the south. This mixed use we are proposing is very similar to the concept plan for the Sell property. We have discussed this with Jeff Sell’s representative and they are in favor of our vision. The Rodahl family is also in favor of our vision for this better use for our community. For our team to be able to meet this need our community has for more housing, we ask you to allow our property to be considered mixed use.”

At the council meeting, Council member Mark Cross asked about the underground parking in case developers could not get the required separation from the groundwater, which could push the apartment buildings higher. Cross also questioned if there was enough green space in the plan. Doty said all of those formulas were not addressed yet with this sketch review and there isn’t a landscape plan at this point, but noted the wetland could be used as greenspace in terms of the overall site plan.

Another question was on parking at the apartments and whether the underground parking would reduce the need for some of the parking spaces shown outside the apartments. City ordinance calls for two spaces per dwelling and of that at least one-half of one space per unit shall be in an underground garage stall or detached or attached garage. Doty noted current apartment developments in construction now have all three of those parking options. Another concern raised was a lack of a park in the area but the plan for trails was seen as a positive move.

Other discussion included the city’s earlier considerations for Evergreen Drive and how that would intersect with Highland Scenic Road for the best sight lines. Without further discussion, the council approved the sketch review comments regarding the development.

Headline News from the Brainerd Dispatch

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at @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 or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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