A parcel on Evergreen Drive at the intersection with Hastings Road is expected to be used as part of an extension of nearby Douglas Fir Drive as well as for stormwater management. One at the corner of Memorywood Drive and Cedar Scenic Road will house a sanitary lifting station. Two more – one on Inglewood Drive and one on Highland Scenic Road – have existing stormwater retention ponds. One plot is already part of an existing public street, located at the dead end of Marohn Road in West Baxter.
The town of Baxter will pay nothing for the land except for potential closing costs, while the county will cover the cost of registering the deeds. State law allows the transfer of forfeited tax property to local governments free of charge as long as the land is for any public use.
County administrator Tim Houle said commissioners’ staff considered the request to be in line with county land asset management policy and that commissioners Rosemary Franzen and Steve Barrows – who represent the districts in which are located the plots – did not raise any objections.
While the county acts as the steward of the tax-free parcels, the state of Minnesota claims ownership when property owners do not pay property taxes over a period of time. Last winter, the county’s land asset management policy as drafted was more restrictive than state law, prompting a reconsideration when the city of Nisswa requested the transfer free of charge of a number of duty-free packages with the intention of creating a new natural park. Other than for the purpose of correcting the plague or creating affordable housing, county policy has discouraged the sale of land below market value for any other reason, including the creation or preservation of wetlands, water management rain, a school forest or land restoration.
In recommending the more restrictive approach, land service staff said it would ease the burden of keeping track of transferred properties for three decades – as required by law – to ensure they continue to be used in the public interest. The board ultimately approved Nisswa’s request with a 3-2 vote and a majority of commissioners said they would prefer to give cities and townships the ability to apply for land on a case-by-case basis.
This summer, the town of Baxter agreed to buy the 84 acres of the Camp Vanasek property on Whipple Lake from the county for $ 347,471. The county held title to the Baxter property – meaning it owned it entirely – and accepted a counter-offer from the city on the purchase. The future of the property was uncertain after Crow Wing County told the city it was considering dissolving its interest in the property in the winter of 2019.
In a council report, the acquisition was described as giving the town the opportunity to achieve one of its goals by expanding the Whipple Beach Recreation Area into a community park with a variety of somewhat like the city’s Oscar Kristofferson Park.
In August, Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said he enjoyed all negotiations on both sides, but it looked like a double-edged sword.
Olson said he didn’t understand why the county hadn’t thought of preserving this property for community use. He noted that the county has ceded properties to other cities and entities in the past for dollar or nothing and added that Baxter taxpayers are county taxpayers.
Baxter City Council accepted the unexpected purchase for which the city had no funds set aside in a 3-1 vote, Olson citing the county’s potential to move forward with a sale to a developer as less desirable.