Independence enacts massage parlor regulations

By Susan Van Cleaf
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The city of Independence now has an ordinance regulating massage parlors that is very similar to an ordinance currently in use in Maple Plain, neighbor city to the east.

The Independence City Council enacted the ordinance at its Tuesday, Sept. 5 meeting. The council also conducted other business. Here are meeting highlights.

MASSAGE PARLORS

City Administrator Mark Kaltsas said that Maple Plain has had an ordinance regulating massage parlors in effect for several months. West Hennepin Public Safety (WHPS) and Maple Plain already have used the ordinance to vet several businesses that had applied for local licensing for massage services. WHPS also provides law enforcement services to Independence. WHPS Public Safety Director Gary Kroells recommended that the two cities have similar ordinances to help his department enforce regulations and keep local citizens safe from illegitimate massage operations.

In April, Kaltsas asked the City Council for feedback on a sample massage parlor ordinance. At that time City Councilor Ray McCoy recalled problems that Maple Plain had encountered with massage parlors during his tenure as WHPS public safety director. He offered detailed suggestions for improving the ordinance, including requirements for reviewing an applicant’s employment history and for doing criminal background checks.

Kaltsas incorporated council feedback into a proposed final version of the ordinance. He reviewed insurance requirements and found that $1 million was consistent with similar licensing, such as liquor license insurance requirements. He recommended that employment history be reviewed for the five previous years, consistent with applications for liquor licenses. Also, he updated language pertaining to the types of criminal background that an applicant must disclose.

In addition, Kaltsas looked at Independence’s zoning ordinances to discover whether someone could provide massage services as a home occupation. He concluded that a person would not likely be able to operate a full massage business as a home occupation under criteria in the ordinance. These provisions include a maximum of one employee and limited clients or patients allowed to visit the premises.

City Councilor McCoy said the applicant should be required to reveal all convictions – not just those from the previous five years.

“I don’t want to hold up approval of the ordinance,” McCoy said. He recommended that the council pass the ordinance and then take time to look for loopholes that need to be plugged. An example is limiting the hours the operator of the business can legally be on the premises after regular business hours for tasks such as cleaning and keeping books. In his experience, massage parlor operators were doing business after hours and calling their activities book keeping or cleaning.

The City Council voted unanimously for approving the massage parlor ordinance.

SUBDIVISION REQUEST HITS OBSTACLES

Richard and Kari Stromer asked for City Council approval for subdividing their 19.47-acre property at 2828 County Line Road into two lots, one spanning 15.15 acres and the other spanning 4.32 acres. However, the Stromers needed a variance from zoning regulations in the Agriculture district. Several City Councilors did not see that the Stromers had the necessary hardship for receiving a variance. The council denied the variance and subdivision on a 4 to 1 vote. Councilor McCoy voted no.

City Administrator Kaltsas said that current Agriculture zoning regulations require a property to be 40 or more acres in size before a subdivision would be allowed. The Stromer property is 19.47 acres.

He also said the property has landscape features that the council needed to look at before deciding the fate of the variance request. A creek bisects the property, thus creating eastern and western parcels. The existing home on the west parcel has access to Maria Road to the west. The Stromers were asking to split off the eastern property segment so that a new home on the property could have access to Nelson Road on the east.

Kaltsas added that a previous owner of the Stromer property would have been allowed to subdivide under Independence’s zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan which were in effect in l991. The previous owner was assessed for improvements to Nelson Road under the assumption that a house eventually would be built on the eastern property.

Both City Councilors Lynn Betts and Brad Spencer said they were concerned that granting a variance under the current zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan would set a precedent, opening the door for similar variance requests.

Betts said Independence would need to change its comprehensive plan in order to accommodate the Stromers’ request for a subdivision.

Spencer said that owners of neighboring properties have bridges across creek beds. He said the Department of Natural Resources very likely would allow the Stromers to construct a similar bridge.

City Council Steve Grotting encouraged the Stromers to round up five neighbors “with crazy property lines” and come to a city comprehensive plan meeting.

WATERSHED DISTRICT MANAGEMENT PLAN

The City Council passed a resolution approving a letter of support for the 10 year management plan written recently by the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD). A portion of Independence is located within this district.

Renae Clark, MCWD project manager, said the Six Mile Creek Halstead Bay and Painter Creek drainage areas would be the focus of district planning and financial investments over the next five to 10 years. A large portion of the Painter Creek area drains into Jennings Bay, the most polluted bay in Lake Minnetonka.
The watershed district is collaborating with the United States Army Corps of Engineer in efforts to restore four major wetland marsh systems within the Painter Creek Subwatershed.

Independence is adding its support via planning, issuance of permits and education for the area.