Would more townhouses mean more money for Baxter?

Faced with increasing costs, concerns with assessments, Baxter City Council member Zach Tabatt said looking a more mixed-use development and greater density may be the answer.

Baxter City Council members sit at the council desk looking at materials.
Baxter City Council members Connie Lyscio, left, Zach Tabatt, Mayor Darrel Olson, Jeff Phillips and Mark Cross prepare for the meeting Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, at Baxter City Hall.
Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER — What kind of development — commercial or housing — provides the greatest return on taxes for the city of Baxter?

Single family homes or big box retail weren’t even close. An analysis by City Council member Zach Tabatt found the biggest return for the city coffers came from townhomes. Tabatt created a bar chart showing what the city was getting per acre depending on the land use. It doesn’t represent what each was paying but what an acre of land would pay in that scenario. So a single family home was listed as bringing in $3,248.19 in city tax per acre. Big Box retail brought in $4,547.96 per acre. On the other end of the scale, industrial/manufacturing brought in $11,487.90 per acre and townhomes topped them all with $13,979.75 per acre.

Tabatt said over the weekend he conducted a random analysis of randomly chosen properties across the city to create the list. He presented the list to the City Council at its Tuesday meeting, Feb. 21, noting he wasn’t saying it was definitive or scientific but was a sample size of one.

“We have been discussing, since I've been on the council, debt service, assessments, what are we going to do about the ever increasing costs,” Tabatt said. “We've got inflation and all of that. And I've kind of come to the conclusion, my opinion is that we don't have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to our one large lot, single family residential.”

A bar chart shows the return to the city in taxes per acre from different types of housing.
The biggest return for city taxes per acre comes from townhomes, Baxter City Council member Zach Tabatt reported to the council at its Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, meeting.
Contributed / City of Baxter

Large lot residential development was at the heart of Baxter’s beginnings. But with aging city roads and the desire to add sewer and water where possible, costs in assessments are then spread over a small number of property owners on those large lots. How to pay for those costs and keep costs from overwhelming residents has been an ongoing topic of conversation for years.


“And I just wanted to look at what properties within the city are generating the most tax dollars per acre, so that they are most likely to be able to cash flow in terms of looking at the city as a business,” Tabatt said, adding it is also looking at the city and how it can keep costs down.

Tabatt said his best idea was to look at what types of properties are in the city and which ones create the most cash flow for the city, thus what the city should be encouraging for the future.

The idea is to look at the city’s zoning maps and have the discussion about what types of properties the city wants to encourage more development of in the near term to make sure city finances are sustainable for the future.

“We can build tons and tons of single family houses or big box retail, that’s not as effective in turning around those financial situations as something like a multi-family, industrial/manufacturing, or the one that turns out of this very small sample to look the best to me is townhome developments,” Tabatt said. “ … So I just wanted to throw this out there as a conversation starter on that note. I'd love to have an EDA (Economic Development Authority) meeting or something similar, where we can talk about looking at that future land use map, looking at our zoning, and just having a kind of a policy discussion about, you know, where could we find places to get more multifamily or low-rise office or something that's in that mixed use category.”

Baxter doesn’t have the traditional apartments above offices or retail, Tabatt said, adding he thinks that could potentially be a good lifestyle option for younger people and create a walkable neighborhood. In terms of value, Tabatt said that multi-story density is likely a property that pays for itself and then some in terms of the value it creates for the city and taxes.

It’s a conversation, Tabatt said, he would like to start.

Also during the meeting’s section for council comments, giving each council member a chance to broach any subject, Tabatt brought up two other items for council consideration — how the city works with financial institutions and opening the city to allow more solar opportunities for residents and businesses.


Designating city depositories

Tabatt asked the council to open a request for proposal process for city depositories, or qualified financial institutions, meaning those businesses could put themselves in the mix in a competitive pool for the city to pick from. Tabatt provided a draft resolution to the council.

Each year, the city designates banking repositories.

“I've mentioned in the past that I am a big fan of putting things out to bid at a reasonable amount of time just to check the market and allow for the free market to do what it does best and try to get us the best overall service and price that we can,” Tabatt said, adding he’d like to address the issue at the next meeting.

Council consensus was in favor of having the discussion whether that would mean a workshop setting before the council meeting or during the regular session.

Mayor Darrel Olson said the city has been approached by lending institutions in the city over the years asking about the designation process and he’s never had a really good answer so he, too, favored a larger discussion.

More solar opportunities?

Tabatt also provided a draft ordinance for council consideration that would allow flexibility for individuals to add solar panels to their roofs.

The model ordinance, which appears to be taken largely from the Model Solar Ordinance-Minnesota, prepared by Great Plains Institute with support from Sunshot and the Energy Foundation, was modified by Tabatt to apply to the city of Baxter. Tabatt said he wasn’t suggesting that model but he is trying to start a conversation about allowing more use of solar energy.

After the recent discussion and approval of the solar array at the Brainerd Public Utilities site, Tabatt said he looked through the city code and could find no other reference to solar.


“And, in essence, what my goal here is, I would like to say that if you own a roof inside the city of Baxter and you want to put solar panels on it, you can go right ahead,” Tabatt said.

The model ordinance, he noted, is much more in depth than that and he said Josh Doty, community development director, could take it and come up with something that fits Baxter.

“What I'm trying to do is, effectively, just give people the option if they choose independently to take advantage of solar, and they see it as a good investment for their residence or commercial building, I think we should just per se allow that,” Tabatt said unless in certain circumstances there is a good reason not to.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

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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