Council approves ordinance amendments for mobile vendors, massage therapists and taxi drivers

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, May 9, 2023

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About a month after first considering changes, the Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved the final reading on three ordinance amendments that deal with requirements for mobile vendors, massage therapists and taxi drivers.

The amendments strengthen protections for consumers and give additional requirements for businesses in the three industries to obtain a license from the city.

Regarding mobile vendors, the ordinance outlines what are community festivals and special events.

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City Manager Ian Rigg said the feedback about the mobile vendor changes was mostly positive, with the top complaint about the annual fees given what other communities charge. The city had previously charged $200 for an annual fee.

City Clerk Daphney Maras said she had received questions from one person asking how the city enforces the distance requirements of how close food trucks can be to special events if they are not taking part in them, as well as fees for electricity and how the city planned to handle reservations for the new food truck plaza.

The ordinance applies to vendors selling on the public right-of-way, as opposed to a private parking lot, and applies to vendors selling pre-packed or non-food items as well as vendors selling food prepared in the truck.

The second amendments, dealing with spas, saunas and massage therapists, addressed concerns about authenticity of licensing, business history and public safety, as well as setting standards of conduct, cleanliness, hours of operation, experience and a background check.

The ordinance requires therapists to be trained in an accredited program and to maintain liability insurance.

Fourth Ward Councilor Sherri Rasmussen brought up a part about attire for massage therapists and questioned the requirement that shorts or skirts be no shorter than 3 inches above the knee. She suggested that instead be 6 inches. She said she wanted to make sure the ordinance was realistic for what massage therapists actually do.

There was also discussion about other dress code wording in the amendment.

Rigg said the changes in the ordinance are meant to help prevent activities such as prostitution or sex trafficking and give the city the administrative ability to revoke a license if necessary.

The final amendments deal with licensing requirements for taxi cabs, including the addition of a background check.

Rigg said a license may be revoked or suspended by the council if the holder is charged or convicted of violating laws that reflect unfavorably on the fitness of the person to offer public transportation, including assault-related charges, fraud or theft-related violations or violations that show the operator takes risk while operating a vehicle.

In other action, the council:

• Approved the first reading of a few ordinances dealing with issues related to the downtown.

One of the ordinances called for eliminating the need for outdoor seating areas downtown to be blocked off by fencing, ropes or planters. Seating will be allowed without a divider from the remainder of the sidewalk but must still comply with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

The second ordinance would allow outdoor merchandise displays in the Diversified Central District, as well as B-2 and B-3 districts, and the specifies the space that these displays can take.

The third ordinance would require properties within the Diversified Central District that are also within the Historic Preservation District to have a minimum of 50% of the main floor be commercial use instead of residential.

Rigg said the effort supported the city’s purpose in becoming a Main Street Community in 2020 in focusing on revitalization while supporting business growth, development, events and residential life.

The amendments were also supported by the Planning Commission.

• Amended the city’s fee schedule to cover the cost to charge an electric vehicle at the North Broadway parking lot, as well as the updated mobile vendor license fee.

The charging cost will be $2 an hour.

The mobile vendor license fee will change from $200 annually to $75.

The price will be negotiable for governmental agencies to rent portions of City Hall or other city buildings.

• Approved continuing the program for students in Freeborn County Head Start to use the city pool free of charge for the 2023 season.

Last year 47 families received a season pass, and 34 students signed up for swim lessons.

Blue Zones Albert Lea will cover the cost of the passes and swim lessons up to $6,000 with a Mayo Clinic Health System grant this season.

Rigg said he thought the effort was important for the council to support and that many of the people the effort reached last year probably would not have been able to buy season passes without the program. He also talked about the importance of water safety.

Mayor Rich Murray said he thought it was a great program, as well, and talked about the opportunities it gave for the community and for the students.

• Approved ordering plans for the resurfacing of the bituminous entrance road to Bancroft Park, as well as the upper section of the parking lot, in addition to the parking lot at the city pool.

A new stormwater pond will also be installed between the pool parking lot and the basketball court.

The council opted not to pave the lower level parking lot at Bancroft Park.

Sixth Ward Councilor Brian Anderson said he did not support the stormwater pond being placed in a busy residential area and cited safety concerns.

During the work session prior to the meeting City Engineer Steven Jahanke talked about how the ponds are designed with a safety slope in the event a small child runs or falls down the hill of the slope. The pond will help with short-term flooding nearby.

• Awarded the contract for the state-aid street overlay project for the summer, which includes a bituminous mill and overlay and various curb, gutter and sidewalk replacements.

Streets included are Clark Street from St. Mary Avenue to East Main Street, Washington Avenue from West Main Street to Fountain Street, Newton Avenue from Clark Street to East Main Street, and Bridge Avenue from Clark Street to Fountain Street.

The only bid received was from Ulland Brothers Inc. for about $513,000, which was about 35% higher than the engineer’s estimate of about $378,000.

The proposed assessments will not increase, and the extra cost will be covered through city bonding.

• Approved the first reading of an ordinance allowing larger vehicles, as well as recreational vehicles and trailers, in the R-1 Single Family Residence District. It would still not allow semis to park in residential areas.

• Approved the first reading of an amendment limiting the wastewater discharge of molybdenum and selenium at the wastewater treatment plant.

• Approved an amendment to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in the city’s facility plan for the preliminary design for the new wastewater treatment plant.

Rigg said the plan has changed from using a lime pasteurization process for treatment of biosolids to dewatering and heat drying.

• Accepted the low bid for bituminous material for the year from Flint Hill Resources of St. Paul.

Jahnke said there was a slight decline in price from the previous year.

• Voted to install a stop sign to control eastbound traffic at the intersection of 18th Street and Margaretha Avenue after a review of the intersection.

• Approved an application from the Albert Lea Wrestling Boosters for a lawful gambling permit at Wedgewood Cove Golf Club.

• Went into closed session to discuss city-owned properties at 201 and 211 South Broadway; 310-332 South Broadway; 322 Vine Avenue; 401 College Street; North Blazing Star property along Garfield and Main Street