BAXTER — After conducting extensive study, SRF Consulting Group hopes to implement quiet sports, educational opportunities and more into plans for the Mississippi River Overlook master plan.
The Baxter City Council met in a business session on September 6 to discuss and review the Mississippi River Overlook Master Plan.
The Mississippi River Overlook Park is a city-owned open space in southwest Baxter. The area is over 880 acres and the city plans to turn it into park space.
A study this year resulted in two master plan ideas presented to the board. The study included a review by the project’s advisory committee, which met four times: a neighborhood meeting, two open houses, and a pop-up meeting at a local farmer’s market. There is also a Wiki map available for online commentary throughout the study at bit.ly/367oS4T.
Based on public feedback, SRF Consulting Group compiled a list of priorities to consider when developing a master plan.
Overall, the public preferred light development, educational opportunities for local schools and colleges, and complimentary amenities over other local amenities. There was also a desire for quiet sports, extended camping, and park accessibility.
Some of the amenities offered on the master plan include soccer fields, a dog park, an outdoor education area and more.
In addition to being presented to council members, the master plans were also presented to the Parks and Trails Commission and the Long Range Planning Commission. Both groups were leaning towards the Master Plan A.
The main difference between the two master plans concerns the future Camp Ripley Veterans State Trail. On Preferred Plan A, the trail heads north near Island Lake and provides more land for lease to third-party organizations. The trail continues west in Plan B and halves the amount of subcontracted land.
The Parks and Trails Commission reviewed the plans at its August 22 meeting, and members noted that Master Plan A was their preferred plan. Commission chair Melissa Barrick said she liked the idea of a dog park on the land.
Commissioner Mari Holderness asked if the only way to get to the park is Oakdale Road. Community Development Manager Josh Doty said yes, noting it was a long hike to the river. He said bringing a new parking lot closer to the river would help people who can’t walk that far.
The Long Range Planning Commission also reviewed the plans at their August 22 meeting and noted that they preferred Master Plan A.
Council member Mark Cross said the city should be careful when considering leasing the land. He added that it might seem like a lot of land now, but in the future it might not be considered a lot of land and the city might regret giving away too much by leasing to third parties like the DNR. He mentioned it in the two park meetings he attended.
“We don’t get land for the park anymore and it’s hard to establish a park when we don’t get a park assignment fee,” Cross said. “It’s the only way to potentially buy more land, with funds dedicated to the park. Where will we be in 50 years?
Cross expressed concern about the idea of leasing land, what the lease would contain, and how the city would get that land back if it ever decided it needed it. He also raised questions about where the plan locates the recreation area.
Cross asked if an active recreational area should be adjacent to a wildlife management area. He said that the need for (sports) pitches is now, not all the way, and that the northern area might be needed for a sports center of some type.
Barrick reiterated that the Parks and Trails Commission discussed creating one zone for all soccer and baseball fields or complexes in one location.
Barrick said a potential lease was unknown and access was questionable unless additional funds were available for Paris Road. She added that a lot of people would love to see a dog park and the location is very conducive to that type of use.
Cross reiterated that he wants to keep the majority of the land.
Cross and Barrick agreed that there wasn’t a lot of land in the park, and the only way to get additional land for the park was through development.
The Parks Commission ultimately decided to recommend Master Plan A to council.
After hearing the presentation at the meeting, board members had time to discuss their own feelings about the project.
Council member Zach Tabatt said he thought the outline was excellent and thorough, but had some confusion about the conversation history.
“I remember before I was on the board, I was in the audience and I think there was a 4 to 1 vote to accept ownership of Island Lake,” Tabatt said. “I remember wondering why this person said we shouldn’t take this land because there are hidden costs every time you accept free land.”
He said he remembered being told many times that the land would cost the city nothing and that he felt like it would have been taken over by another entity at the time.
“I’m a little leery of putting this into a solid written plan that it’s going to happen at a price of around $8 million after just recalling the conversation we had,” Tabatt said.
Tabatt said the proposed plan is great, but he thinks the board should take more time to discuss the plans before voting to approve anything.
Mayor Darrel Olson also mentioned that he might like to hear from MNR.
Later, during the regular council session, Tabatt said he is looking forward to the next meeting of the Economic Development Authority.
“I think it would be good for us to discuss EDA options to move land and try to move forward being a bit more active,” Tabatt said. “I think the conversations tonight at all levels have kind of convinced me that if there’s anything we can do to spur new development or unload land that’s just sleeping, we could use them for economic development. I think it would be worth revisiting, and more actively.
The working session ended with the consensus that board members would need more discussion before they felt ready to vote on anything.