City panel gives nod on updated business building standards

Published 10:15 am Thursday, April 8, 2010

After several levels of revisions, the Albert Lea Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended approval of the revised design standards for several business areas of Albert Lea.

The amendment — which if approved will be a part of the city’s zoning ordinance — aims to improve the appearance of the city’s entrances and major thoroughfares, but within enforceable objective standards.

“We finally came up with something I think everybody can work with,” said Community Development Director Bob Graham. “It basically notifies new developers that we’re concerned about the appearance of the community.”

Email newsletter signup

If approved by the council, the building design ordinance will apply to new construction and commercial buildings expanding by more than 50 percent in the business districts along the city’s entrances and major thoroughfares.

Specifically, the ordinance impacts the B-2 Community Business District, so it would apply to East and West Main Street, the Walmart area on Blake Avenue, parts of North Bridge Avenue, and South Broadway Avenue between Front and Seventh streets.

It does not apply to any residential or industrial district, the downtown B-3 Central Business District or the National Commercial Historic District.

Properties such as Skyline Mall, Trails Travel Center, Love’s Travel Center, Home Depot, Larson Manufacturing distribution center and properties on Plaza Street are in planned districts that have individual guidelines with design requirements, according to background given by Graham.

Graham said having a building design ordinance was a goal established in the Albert Lea Area Listens project and has also been a part of the First Impressions study and the Albert Lea comprehensive plan.

The purpose of the design standards is to establish a quality first impression to travelers on the corridors and to assure minimum building design standards to protect neighboring investment, the ordinance states.

All building vertical surfaces should have finishes made of fire resistant and low maintenance construction materials, including face brick, architectural or decorative block of concrete, stone, stucco, aluminum, steel or other materials that “enrich” the appearance of the community, according to the amendment.

The front of the building should have a clearly defined entrance, incorporating windows and doors, and the front of the building shall have a minimum of 10 percent of the ground floor in see-through windows. The bottom of the windows should not be more than 48 inches above the ground or sidewalk.

Not more than 10 percent of the required window space may be covered with signs, and the roof design should provide screening of roof top equipment.

Lastly, all exterior trash enclosures should be designed with materials similar to what is used in the building and should be adequate to screen the trash materials.

Albert Lea Economic Development Agency Director Dan Dorman described the latest version of the ordinance as “reasonable.”

“It meets the essence of what I hear from the City Council,” Dorman said. “Relative to where this started, I don’t think it will be a hindrance to development.”

Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Randy Kehr said he thinks the ordinance “gives developers guidance without tying their hands behind their backs.”

“It at least tells developers what we’d like to see as a community without being overly restrictive,” Kehr said.

He noted he was appreciative of the Planning Commission and city staff for receiving and utilizing input on the amendment.

Graham said the amendment will probably come before the council at its first meeting in May.

It has been in the development stages since last summer.