By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
For the past couple of years, residents in Little Falls have taken to using their vehicles to advertise their garage sales.
It started as the city of Little Falls updated its sign ordinance and enforcement of it. At that time, the city was in the middle of a lawsuit brought by resident Robin Hensel over the ordinance’s constitutionality and restrictions on free speech.
The city settled with Hensel earlier this year.
Several weeks ago, Council Member Greg Zylka asked whether the Council could look at and deal with garage sale signs on cars, possibly allowing garage salers to post their signs in a neighbor’s yard with permission.
He said having cars parked with garage sales signs along city streets was “embarrassing” and that residents had visited with him about the signs on parked vehicles. In addition to being an eyesore, he said a lot of residents feel it creates more of a hazard than garage sale signs.
Zylka said he understood from the attorney that helped with the lawsuit that the city could allow one sign on a person’s property as long as it wasn’t in the right of way and one off their property, as long as permission was granted from the other resident.
“That’s what I understood,” said Zylka. “I don’t know if it has to go back to the Planning Commission.
“No,” said City Attorney Toni Wetzel. “You can’t have off-premise signs.”
“We can’t make decisions on right of way,” said Council Member Frank Gosiak. Everyone, he said, wanted to use the state aid roads. “We are not going to alleviate the problem with vehicles, because that’s where they are.”
Zylka questioned whether the city was taking away businesses’ ability to do business, such as a person who purchased property behind the radio station, but couldn’t put a sign near Haven Road, because it would be off-premise.
“It could be something the Planning Commission could look at, to see if there is some alternative ways to do this,” said Gosiak. “Maybe it’s time.”
In deciding whether or not to open up the garage sale sign discussion again, Council Member Jeremy Hanfler said he’d like to have attorneys look at the idea first.
“You’re going to get a ‘no’ from me,” said Wetzel. “You just got the blessing of a federal judge on your ordinance and now you want to crack it open again. Absolutely you can — the question is ‘should you.’” she said.
The problem with garage sale signs, she said, was who was going to give permission, who was going to monitor it, check it or patrol for it.
“That’s going to be the problem,” said Wetzel. “We’re not done with litigation yet; nothing is completely, entirely wrapped up. We’re just talking about this now. Even two years from now, I can tell you the answer you’re going to get from the League (of Minnesota Cities) is ‘Leave it alone.’ It’s not perfect, but it’s been blessed and crossed and we’ve been told that this is OK. We start tampering with it and crack it open again and you might run into problems.
“I’m certainly not going to recommend you do it, but of course it’s your choice,” said the city attorney.
“What frosts me,” said Zylka, “is when everybody comes to me and says, ‘Every other community can do it, why can’t we.’”
Wetzel said, “Not every other community has been through the litigation we have been through. That’s the answer. Here we are, this is how I have to recommend we deal with it.”
Zylka said he could live with that. “I told you it was a scab on an old wound.”