City presents zoning proposals for adult-focused businesses, including cannabis

Published 7:58 am Thursday, May 23, 2024

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Albert Lea city staff presented zoning proposals Wednesday evening for cannabis businesses in the future, along with other adult-focused businesses, including tobacco, off-sale liquor and sexually-oriented businesses.

Wayne Sorensen, building and zoning official for the city, said the city started reviewing how to equitably regulate cannabis and other adult-focused businesses as the state moves forward with permitting new types of cannabis businesses.

He noted the updated zoning regulations would apply to new businesses in the four categories, and existing businesses would be grandfathered in. Current locations could repair or replace their existing buildings; however, if they wanted to expand, they would be under the new regulations.

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Under the proposal, cannabis, off-sale liquor, tobacco and sexually-oriented businesses would be generally prohibited in residential areas, the historic downtown, in the area around the downtown and in areas along the interstate.

Cannabis, tobacco and off-sale liquor establishments would have to be at least 1,000 feet from a school and at least 500 feet from day cares, residential treatment facilities, attractions within a public park typically used by minors, interstate right-of-ways and other like businesses. Staff utilized state guidelines for this.

Exterior cultivation of cannabis would not be allowed anywhere in city limits except as allowed by the state for personal use.

Zoning regulations already in place for sexually-oriented businesses require the businesses to be at least 1,500 feet from interstate highways, 1,000 feet from a school and at least 500 feet from a residential area, park, public theater, shopping center, airport and a like zoning use.

Sorensen showed a map with these setbacks, which illustrated where new businesses in these categories could and could not be under the proposals.

The action comes as the council on Monday is slated to have the final reading of an ordinance that would place a moratorium on new applications in these four business categories for six months as the city works through and finalizes the regulations. The council could begin reviewing the proposals as early as July or August.

Sorensen said when the city considers changes in zoning laws, it looks at the purpose of its various zoning districts, the use that is proposed and if that use aligns with the purpose.

Using this analysis, retail cannabis businesses could be allowed in the B-2 and I-1 districts, while low-potency retail businesses would be allowed in all of the business districts as well as the interstate development district, I-1 district and the diversified central district. He also had areas listed for cultivators and manufacturers, testing and medical cannabis options, among others.

A chapter would also acknowledge odors associated with cannabis businesses and have a parameter in place for those. It also would include a chapter on design standards of the buildings, which he said would likely be modeled after the current B-2 design standards.

Work will also be done on the permitting process. Cannabis applicants will obtain their state license first and then come to the city to make sure their project meets zoning guidelines and get their permit.

City Manager Ian Rigg said the state has said there will be a minimum of one cannabis store per 12,500 people, and he said there is still a lot of unknown at the state level. He encouraged those in attendance to remember that there my be additional limitations and that even if they apply, they may not be approved by the state.

Rigg said the goal is to not use the whole six-month moratorium as it works through its proposals. Chances are high the zoning ordinance will be done first, as it looks at other parts of the issue, including the permitting.

One person asked if there would be a cap on the number of businesses that will be allowed, and Rigg said they are anticipating the state to limit the number approved per area in the state.

Sorensen said currently there are nine liquor stores and seven tobacco stores. They will likely start with two for cannabis and go higher as discussions proceed.

A few in the audience encouraged city staff to consider more than two, some even noting the industry could bring business and jobs to the community.

Sorensen said while license ordinances can always be changed, it would be difficult to start out with more like seven stores and then try to go back.

Another question asked if the permitting process for cannabis would be the same as for liquor stores or if it would be more extensive.

Rigg said there are many unknowns, and they are hoping to get more information from the League of Minnesota Cities on this. While there are many unknowns, there will be compliance checks, and the state will vet the businesses before they come to the city.

One person in the audience questioned who will monitor rule following once the businesses are open. Sorensen said the state will make sure state licensing requirements are followed, his department will handle zoning issues and law enforcement will also be brought in.

City Attorney Joel Holstad said he wanted to emphasize that there is no way to guarantee that anyone currently in Albert Lea will be able to get a license and noted there are many unknowns. What’s important for the city at this time is giving indication where those who are approved will be able to be in the community.

Some in the audience expressed concern with allowing the businesses and with the impact they could have on children.

Rigg said from what he has seen, state rules on things such as advertising for cannabis would be more stringent compared to other things.

The Albert Lea City Council will ultimately make the final decision based on public input, recommendations from the Planning Commission and League of Minnesota Cities, as well as actions by the Legislature.

People who have input can contact Sorensen at 377-4340 or