LF Council denies business request for off-premise sign

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Riitters Thompson & Olson PA (RTO) moved its offices in May from downtown Little Falls to a new location behind (west) the Little Falls Radio Station on Haven Road. The business has no access to it from the road, but shares a driveway with the radio station. Being behind the station, the building is not visible from the road.

However, because of the Little Falls city sign ordinance, the business cannot place a sign on Haven Road, because the business doesn’t own the property and it would be considered an off-premise sign, and as such, a violation of the city’s sign ordinance.

RTO asked the Little Falls City Council whether the sign ordinance could be amended to allow off-premise signs, so it could place a directional sign on Haven Road letting people know where their office was.

Public Works Director Greg Kimman told the Council the property was landlocked with RTO using an easement through the Little Falls Radio property, but they don’t own it.

Kimman said the subdivision was created when the area was still in the Belle Prairie Township. The situation was unique, he said.

“It wouldn’t have happened if it (the subdivision) were in the city,” he said, because it doesn’t have road frontage.

Rocky Thompson, one of the owners of RTO, indicated Little Falls Radio was in the process of erecting a new sign, and was open to discussing permission to add the Riitters Thompson & Olson PA sign.

“It’s a directional sign, not promotional sign,” she said, adding it was time-sensitive since the sign would be put up in the next two weeks.

Thompson said the business had been in the location for six weeks and clients were not able to find it. She added it was a seasonal business, with clients coming from December through April only.

“We’ve made a significant investment in the community,” she said, saying it had been in business for 36 years. The business just wanted its clients to be able to find the new office.

Council Member Greg Zylka said he’d brought the issue up a while ago. “My concern has always been are we hampering business,” he said. “I was also told this is still in litigation at this time and we’ve been instructed to walk very softly.”

City Attorney Toni Wetzel said she had talked to Paul Reuvers, the attorney who handled the lawsuit involving the city and Robin Hensel, because “this keeps rearing its head.”

A settlement had been reached in the lawsuit, with Hensel being awarded damages and given the go-ahead to have a bench put up at City Hall.

The parties will be meet before a magistrate judge July 23 in Duluth to discuss where things are with the case, Reuvers said. If necessary, the court has set a new hearing date of Aug. 21 in Duluth to hear arguments on the motions related to the agreement.

However, after her conversation with Reuvers that day, she said, “We’re still actively involved in litigation, it’s not settled, it’s being contested now. We don’t know how much longer this is going to be.”

Wetzel said Reuvers’ recommendation at this point was “to leave it as it is,” she said.

She said even after it is settled, if the city chose to look at doing something with off-premise signage, there wouldn’t be an easy fix and that it wouldn’t be an inexpensive, quick process.

Thompson said the business was simply looking for directional signs, not advertising.

“I wish I had a fix for you, but at this point in time the guy that’s handling this case has flat-out said, we need to leave this as is. We are not done with litigation on this.”

There is no way for the city to grant a variance or a temporary permit for a sign, either, Wetzel told Thompson.

“This sounds crazy, but I’m going to ask any way,” said Council Member Brian-Paul Crowder. “What if the city ever decided to throw it out, once litigation is over with.”

“To throw it out completely, I don’t know,” said Wetzel. “I’d have to check with Paul on that.

Crowder asked her to check.

“For all the headaches and the expense of the whole community, I would just like to see the whole thing thrown out,” said Crowder.

Wetzel said if the entire Council wanted her to follow up on it, she would, but didn’t know if that would be the reasonable thing.

“The quick answer is, you don’t need to have a sign ordinance at all,” said Wetzel. “You’re not required to and don’t need it. Whether Paul would recommend now getting rid of it in the middle of litigation. I don’t know what the Council wants me to follow up with that again.”

Wetzel said she’d be happy to contact Reuvers, but noted that if she did, the city would be double-billed — a bill from her and a bill from him.

“I would like to know that answer and I think if we’re a pro-business town, we should look into it for our business community,” Crowder said.

“You’ve got to realize that involves a lot of stuff,” said Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem. “Any building in town could have as many signs on their building as they wanted, toe to toe, nail to nail. With no sign ordinance, absolutely anything will go,” she said.

As far as changing anything in the ordinance for off-premise signs, Wetzel said, “With everything we had to address, don’t think it would be an easy fix in any way, shape or form and it might make it more complicated.”

She said it would be a comprehensive change if that’s something the city should choose to do.

Thompson asked several hypothetical questions regarding signs, all ideas would be a violation of the sign ordinance.

“It’s a tough one,” said Klinker.

Reuvers said the magistrate judge ordered the parties in the Hensel vs. city lawsuit settlement to meet before him July 23 in Duluth to discuss where things are. If necessary, the court has set Aug. 21 as a  new hearing date in Duluth to hear arguments on motions related to the settlement agreement.

  • robin hensel

    This article only tells you part of the story again…the part the city and mcrecord WANT you to hear. I bet my attorneys were not contacted. I will check and follow up.

    • Guest

      some people just want to create more problems then it’s all worth and you are one of them I wish you would move to a different county

      • robin hensel

        Laurie Koll…wish all you want. Since you want to live where there is no tolerance, it is you who should seek a country that allows discrimination and is within the law. I will continue to blow the whistle, whenever I see injustice.

        • Guest

          you can’t even read I said county not country wafisb

          • robin hensel

            County or country..what is the difference. What right do you think ypu or anyone else has to suggest I move anywhere else than my home. As I have said countless times…I am not going anywhere.

      • robin hensel

        Laurie Koll….this is AmeriKa remember? Where everyone has equal rights and free speech…not just the local popular message of pro-war. Just because there are so many locals receiving their bread and butter from the war machine, doesn’t mean those folks get the right to shut out differing viewpoints. Come on, aren’t you savvy enough to get it?

        • Guest

          better then making your bread and butter by suing every chance you get

          • robin hensel

            Wrong again Nancy…I haven’t made one penny…..have become indebted because of the fight for free speech and equal rights. Better check your facts.

          • robin hensel

            Laurie Koll….I have been given opportunity to sue BECAUSE MY RIGHTS WERE VIOLATED. The only way to prevent that in the future is for the council and others in power stop their ROTTEN LAWLESS practices. Why don’t you call them today and urge them to be fair and ABOVE THE BOARD instead of operating OUTSIDE THE LAW?

    • Rick Witte

      Robin, why in the world would the City or the Record contact your attorneys on this or anything? The City is hesitant to change anything until the lawsuit is resolved so why would they contact your attorney for advice or for his view?

      • robin hensel

        Mcrecord has contacted Larry Frost, my attorney, a number of times….nothing new.

  • robin hensel

    Just what i thought….my atty did not speak with the writer of this article. Just so the readers know….there is alot more to the story than what is written here.

    • animal rescuer

      with you there’s always more to the story, you create a lot of the problems with this little city and believe me there’s lots of us who are sick of it

      • robin hensel

        Then I strongly suggest you call your mayor and elected representative and tell them to enforce laws UNIFORMLY AND UPHOLD THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL OATH.

  • robin hensel

    Too bad the author of this article left out councilman jeremy hanfler’s comment. Hanfler asked if parking was restricted along Haven Road. When Chief Schirmers answered “no”, Hanfler suggested(while chuckling) that RTO could get a trailer with signs on and park on the edge of the road.

  • LF Taxpayer

    So real commerce is being obstructed now because of one parasite.

    • robin hensel

      Lf taxpayer…..little falls off premise commercial signage is being denied because YOUR FOOLISH CITY COUNCIL ADOPTED THE LEAGUE OF MN CITIES HOPKINS MODEL SIGN ORDINANCE..instead of one like Bloomington has that allows some off premise signs.

  • robin hensel

    too bad the reporter didn’t print the comment that Jeremy Hanfler made at the end of the discussion denying RTO an off premise ILLEGAL SIGN. He said something to the effect of “get a trailer and park it on the edge of the road” after clarifying with Chief Schirmers that there are NO parking restrictions along Haven Road.

  • josh

    Little Falls should change its name to Little Sign. We are obsessed with them here. It is ridiculous that they would rather have him park a trailer on the side of the road then have a sign. Ridiculous.

    • robin hensel

      For everyone’s information….on Thursday July 24th, 2014 there was an off premise illegal banner advertising Ritters Thompson Olson on what looks to be the road right of way, that was photographed and reported to the zoning administrator. This looks to be an outright blatant sign ordinance violation. When I inspected the file at city hall, on Friday July 25th, 2014 for that property on Haven Road, there was no banner permit in their file. Troubling. Time will tell if the zoning administrator sends them a warning letter, as he has done to some violators and not others.

      • central mn

        You have WAY too much time on your hands, you should find a hobby.

  • Kevin Olson

    It seems that Robin Hensel needs a new hobby. I live 90 miles away from Little Falls but frequent the area. I am tired of the junky looking place on the south edge of town that must be inhabited by a lonely, bitter person. The city has wasted a lot of money because of this person. I had been considering moving my small business to the Little Falls area but have reconsidered because of this garbage. That is too bad. The tolerance that Robin so often speaks of is devoid in her personality and demeanor. It is obviously her intent to make a living suing communities for what SHE sees as a fault in their system of government. Well bravo…..Ms Hensel……your plan has worked. You get awarded monies and the junkyard continues.