Posted on

Strip club inquiry raises concerns

An question about opening a strip club in Abbotsford has prompted city officials to make sure the local zoning code adequately prevents such establishments from operating near homes, schools, churches and parks.

City administrator Dan Grady told city council members at a Feb. 19 committee of the whole meeting that someone came into city hall to ask about the rules for starting an adult “dancing” venue.

When he checked the city’s ordinance book, Grady said he realized the zoning code conflicted with the ordinance on “lewd and sexually explicit conduct.”

The zoning code for the city’s Adult Entertainment Overlay District sets a 250foot buffer zone between an adult entertainment business and any residential dwelling, pre-existing school, church, daycare or venue serving alcohol.

However, the chapter dealing with the regulation of lewd or sexually explicit conduct allows adult entertainment venues to be located within 100 feet of any residence, church, school, nursing home, public park or daycare. The ordinance also prohibits them from being located within 500 feet of a business that sells alcohol.

Grady says if the city’s ordinances were challenged in court, a judge could decide to go with the least restrictive setback requirements, which would open up more area for “adult entertainment.”

Council members were clearly not comfortable with the idea of having an erotic dancing establishment in Abbotsford. Ald. Mason Rachu wondered why the council couldn’t just vote against a license for any such venue, but Grady said it’s not that simple.

“If it doesn’t serve liquor and meets all of the other requirements, it’s hard for us to say no,” he said.

The ordinance dealing with sexually explicit conduct requires such establishments to obtain a license approved by the council, and there are numerous restrictions on the conduct of performers and patrons.

Any approved application would start with a six-month probationary period, during which time the applicant must abide by all of the regulations and “correct any deficiencies or problems” before a full one-year license is issued.

“If, however, for any reason, the application is denied by the Common Council, the Common Council shall specify the findings made that support that denial,” the ordinance states.

The zoning code makes it clear that the city must defer to constitutional protections afforded to such businesses.

“The Common Council recognizes the U.S. Supreme Court has held that material with adult content is within the outer perimeters of the First Amendment of the United States of the Constitution, and therefore entitled to some limited protection under the First Amendment,” the code states.

At this point, Grady said no application has been submitted and the person who asked about opening the venue did not mention any specific locations within the city.

Still, Grady said he plans to schedule a board of appeals meeting as soon as possible so changes can be made to the ordinance that will make the buffer zones as large as possible.

Based on what he has heard from council members, Grady said he would like to see if a 500-foot setback from any house, church, school, playground or daycare is legally defensible so that options would be limited within the city.

“The sentiment is to make it as impossible as possible,” he said.

Ald. Dennis Kramer predicted an immediate public backlash if the council were to be presented with an application for an adult entertainment venue.

“If you want to get this room full of people, that would do it,” he said.

Other business

_ Grady said the city has qualified for about $12,000 in FEMA grant money to reimburse the city for the costs of cleaning up after severe storms in July.

_ The council was informed that the city’s contract with Cintas has expired, and the company has removed all of its floor mats from city hall. Grady said it will cost the city about $1,000 to buy new mats, which is cheaper than what it cost to pay Cintas annually for mat-cleaning.

_ A year-end review of the city’s municipal court showed that Abbotsford netted about $10,300 from the court after expenses were deducted from revenue generated by citations in 2019.

_ Utility operator Josh Soyk said the city is looking for 10 local homeowners who will allow their drinking water to be tested for copper and lead. As part of the DNR mandate, the houses must have been built before 1983, have copper pipes with lead solder, and no water softeners.

Soyk said the goal is to make sure the city’s water is not leeching copper or lead into the drinking supply. If 10 percent or more of the test samples came back over a certain level, Soyk said the city would have to add more polyphosphates to the water treatment process.

Only three homeowners had agreed to have the tests done, so Soyk was looking for more participants. Several council members and the mayor said they would allow their water to be tested.

_ Grady told the council that a state building inspector was coming to the city on Feb. 27 to look at a business addition that was not built to code. He also said the city attorney has signed off on a possible ordinance that would allow the city to require an inspection of a building project if city officials felt it was not being done according to code. If the inspector found something wrong, the property owner would have to pay for the inspection; if not, the city would have to pay for it.

_ The council had a brief discussion about providing more public parking downtown, but no actions were recommended. DPW Craig Stuttgen noted that it is not the city’s responsibility to find parking for tenants living in second-floor apartments in the downtown area.

_ The council agreed to establish the first Friday of November as the last day for leaf pickups, starting this fall.

_ Council members agreed to vote on a motion at their next meeting that would release David Williamson, owner of ATeam Machine, from having the city listed as a beneficiary on his life insurance policy. That requirement was part of a 2012 deal in which the city spent $75,000 in order to help procure a building in the industrial park for A-Team Machine.

Grady said the business has paid about $90,000 in property taxes since then, so the city’s $75,000 investment has been more than paid back through tax incremental financing.

_ Council members discussed ideas for naming the newly built road off STH 13, heading west into the future industrial park. The city already has an Industrial Park Road, so Stuttgen has suggested “Opportunity Drive,” but he said it’s up to the council to decide on a name. He also noted that every other east-west road in Abbotsford is named after a tree. The council was asked to come back with suggestions at a future meeting.

_ The council met in closed session to discuss negotiations with landowners who will be affected by this year’s Safe Routes to School project on West Spruce Street. Before work can get started on the project, the city needs to purchase temporary limited easements from property owners.

_ The council approved about $1.3 million in monthly expenses, which include several large property tax payments to the local school district and counties.