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Baxter rebuffs House bill aimed at lawn mandates

The council of the City of Baxter supports local decision-making authority and opposes legislation that restricts the ability of local elected officials.

Baxter City Hall covered in snow
Baxter City Hall off of Memorywood Drive.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — The Baxter City Council doesn’t want the state Legislature telling them how lawns in the city should look — or how it should be doing anything else, for that matter.

During the Feb. 15 council meeting, council members passed the “supporting housing and local decision-making authority” resolution to protect local government spending, public safety, housing and zoning land use.

The resolution comes in response to bill HF 2618 , proposed by Rep. Rick Hansen , DFL-South St. Paul, which would allow managed natural landscaping on any private property within a city’s borders.

The bill describes managed natural landscapes as “planned, intentional, and maintained planting of native or nonnative grasses, wildflowers, forbs, ferns, shrubs, or trees.” This includes rain gardens, meadow vegetation and ornamental plants, but does not include turf-grass lawns left unattended. The bill would also require all other weeds and grasses on any public or private parcel within the city to be kept below 8 inches in height.

Baxter’s regulations on tall grass and weeds requires areas converted to turf grass not exceed a height of 7 inches or be allowed to go to seed. As for native vegetation, city ordinance notes if a proposed native prairie or forest restoration area is replacing existing turf, the natural area cannot exceed half of the space.

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The issue for Baxter isn’t what’s in the bill, it’s that the bill mandates a statewide rule the city believes it should be deciding. Brad Chapulis, Baxter’s city administrator, said this bill would hamper local officials from performing their responsibilities or appropriately serving their local communities, which they are elected to do.

“As with any bill that would take away local decision-making authority,” Chapulis said, “making decisions as to how we develop our land within our communities and providing regulation, as it relates to how to take care of your lawn, is best served at the local level, not at the state level.”

Baxter city officials penned the resolution in conjunction with the League of Minnesota Cities to be included with similar resolutions adopted by other Minnesota cities as they advocate for local decision-making at the Capitol. This includes any other potential mandates dictated from St. Paul to communities.

“The effect of this state bill hampers local officials performing their responsibilities or appropriately servicing their local communities,” Chapulis said. “Local officials by state statute are charged to protect the health, safety and welfare of local communities that they represent. These statutory changes constrict that local authority and prevent effectively safeguarding the interest of local communities.”

The resolution also states the council supports housing policy advancing solutions to support local innovation and incentives instead of mandates, and community-specific solutions throughout Minnesota.

“There's a bigger need, which is trying to address the shortage that currently exists statewide,” Chapulis said. “And we're supportive of any bill that is introduced or policy that's introduced that moves us in that direction.”

The next Baxter City Council meeting will be at 6 p.m. March 1 at city hall on Memorywood Drive.

TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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