Rules limiting rummage sales come under fire
Even though they have the best of intentions, residents at 304 Huntsinger Ave. who have been giving away and sometimes selling clothing and household items ran afoul of the law earlier this summer.
When they came to the city council this week to plead their case, however, they were directed to work with city staff if they want the rules changed.
The residents are sisters, Vicki Cheney and Sharon Pohl. Two other adults share the home. Cheney was issued a ticket June 5 for violating the city's garage sale ordinance.
The ordinance limits a homeowner to two garage sales per year. Each sale can last up to three days.
Cheney pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor. The fine and fees come to $122.
Carolyn Bitker, Cheney and Pohl's landlord, said the way she reads the city ordinance is if four adults are living in a home, there could be eight sales per calendar year at the residence and at three days each, the sales could be held 24 days.
City planner Dan Walker said the intent of the ordinance is to limit sales at the premises regardless of the number of people who live there.
The ticket was issued following a neighbor's complaint.
City records show that in September 2006 when a complaint was registered about sales at the residence, Cheney and Pohl were encouraged to apply for a conditional use permit for a home occupation.
They filled out the paperwork but decided they couldn't afford the $750 permit fee.
"People who live in neighboring houses don't want the traffic and to be next to a yard cluttered up year after year," said council member Ted Godfrey, defending the ordinance.
Police chief Terry Eilers said if the women felt they weren't in violation of the ordinance, they should have plead their case before the judge. "A judge makes that determination, not the city council," Eilers said. "You can plead guilty or not."
Mayor Nancy Carroll encouraged them to work with staff if they want to have the ordinance changed, but for the time being, said the council needs to follow staff recommendations.
Cheney said they asked to be on the agenda because they can't afford to pay the $122 fee. "We are asking you to look at what this is even about," she said.
The council moved on.
After the meeting, Cheney and Pohl explained they store items, mostly baby clothes and furniture, such as cribs, in the garage and in their residence. They have given away most of the merchandise to mothers with babies.
When they did have a garage sale, they advertised. Pohl said she and her sister have health issues and it takes them a couple of months to get ready for a garage sale.
After she got the ticket June 5, Cheney said, they have emptied the premises of the merchandise - 485 items. It was all taken to the Corner Closet, a business on Pleasant Avenue.
The women, with help from Bitker, Bob Dreckman and others, washed, ironed and repaired what they later gave away. Cheney said she delivered brochures to Wadena, Sebeka and Menahga to let people know the items were available for those who couldn't afford to buy new. But a lot of their advertising was "word of mouth" or referrals from the Assembly of God Church.
"We let them go through the closet," Cheney said. They have sometimes helped 20-30 families a month, she added.
In the wintertime, she added, they mostly took phone calls.
Ironically, they regarded their labors as a ministry of the church. It was an ongoing yard sale for Calvary Lutheran Church years ago that prompted the city to adopt the ordinance limiting garage sales in the first place.
In other action Tuesday night, the council:
n On a 3-2 vote agreed to follow the airport commission's recommendation and investigate purchasing a vending machine for the airport terminal building. "There is a need for it," said council member Clyde Zirkle. "It's not about making money. It is a service... "We have one of the best airports in northern Minnesota."
"But it's not because we don't have a vending machine," quipped Godfrey.
Godfrey and Mikesh voted against the motion to pursue it.
n Scheduled a special council meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 29, to expedite review of the preliminary and final plat for the J&B Foods development.
n Approved a proposal for SRF Consulting Group to conduct a safety audit in the area surrounding Century Middle School. The audit is necessary to pursue the second phase of a federal Safe Routes to Schools grant and will be done at no cost to the city, according to Irene Weis, who has shepherded the project on behalf of the school and city.
If successful, the second phase of the grant would provide funding for infrastructure (a sidewalk and/or a bike path) along Helten Avenue.
A year ago, Century School received $3,500 from the Safe Routes to Schools program to purchase physical education equipment.
n Heard complaints from residents on the east side of Highway 71 north about odors emitted from their sewer vent pipes since utility lines were extended farther north in 2003.
Jim Allen, Rod Garden and Art Burns said city staff have worked on the problem but can't come up with a remedy.
"It's a summertime disaster as far as being able to take care of your guests and use your patio," Burns said.
The council agreed they should work with the city administrator to find a solution.