City asks Lansing to dismantle Christmas-tree housing structure

City officials have ordered David Lansing to dismantle a structure that houses Christmas trees on the Division Street property where his family operates a decorative plant-selling business.

Dan Olson, staff liaison to the Planning Commission, said in an email on Monday that David Lansing had a permit for outdoor sales and for a temporary greenhouse-type structure at 600 Division St. from April until Sept. 30, 2008.

“The outdoor sales persisted after that date, and we worked with David and his father Mayor Lee Lansing, who was given power-of-attorney to discuss the matter with the city, to halt the sales and remove the temporary structure,” Olson said. “The Lansings halted the sales they had previously undertaken, but did not remove the temporary structure. The matter was turned over to the city’s prosecuting attorney, Tim Morisette. Mr. Morisette has given the Lansings until Wednesday to remove the structure.

The Mayor did not return a message to his cell phone by 4:30 p.m.

Update 11/24 6 p.m.: I added a comma after Mr. Olson’s title and the word “that” in the first sentence of the second paragraph to correct the sentence structure. I changed “Lansing’s” to “Lansings'” to correct the grammar. Mr. Olson wrote “Lansing’s” in his email response to me originally.

Update 11/25 1 p.m. I apologize for yet another grammatical mix-up! Lansings’ should be Lansings.

36 thoughts on “City asks Lansing to dismantle Christmas-tree housing structure”

  1. Bonnie –

    Any details on the underlying issue(s) motivating this latest legal effort by the City?

    Although we’re all concerned with public safety, it would seem that a bit of Christmas cheer on the otherwise rather forlorn west side of the 600 Block of Division Street would be a good thing.

    – Ross

  2. Christmas Cheer? More like pickled herring for Christmas. While they are at it, city staff might also draw and quarter Santa in Bridge Square. Winter walk would be an appropriate time.

    My understanding is the city has no regulations covering the use of tree lots in the C2 district. Perhaps, in fact, no where other than in residential zones. Look at the old Tires Plus site with all the Christmas green and tell me this is not an added attraction to the downtown.

    Is there another Christmas tree lot in Northfield?

    If the city shuts this one down on a technicality, where does Tim Morisette suggest Northfield’s children and their parents go for a tree? Hum Bug big time at the City “Hall” (decked with nothing more than vengeance)

    Maybe they are trying to goad the Mayor into using his Mayoral position to influence an out come?

    Maybe the Mayor elect will jump in? Does anyone locally have “pardon powers”.

  3. What underlying issue? He let his permit expire in September and didn’t get it renewed. He bought trees knowing his permit was expired. If the city inspectors didn’t cite the mayor, how could they cite anyone else in the city for failing to comply with the law?
    The only question is why the mayor continues to put the city in the position of forcing him to obey the laws he swore to uphold.

  4. His permit was up on September 1, if it was anyone else the city would not have waited so long to enforce this issue. I don’t care what he’s selling, he has NO permit to do it, he needs to stop.
    Now, I think he’s doing it on purpose just to see how far he can push the city, his behavior reminds me of my kids when they were little and tried very hard to get their way

  5. Anybody know or understand why he cannot simply renew the permit to sell flowers, produce and christmas trees? Across the road at Econofoods they seem to have no problem selling such items. (what kind of ‘permit’ is required anyway?). It seems to me that City Hall is harrassing the Mayor while he is down.

  6. I have no way of verifying whether the city is harrassing the mayor or giving him special consideration or not. The question I have is why didn’t he renew the permit? If the business is not going to continue, then the issue seems to be the temporary structure itself. It is evident that Econofoods does not leave its floral display stand up all year long.

  7. Bonnie,

    Can you please clarify the issue please?

    Is the issue simply that the greenhouse like structure was meant as a temporary structure, and its permit has expired, meaning it needs to come down… or is the issue that of a permit to conduct outdoor sales has expired.

    The first is a simple solution, remove the structure or reapply for an extension to the permit.

    The second however, is running a business without a permit.

    Are both of these standards the case? Two permits?

    Can you clarify further?

  8. John T. is correct in determining that there are two separate issues here. The first issue is the permit to sell goods, the second is the legality of the structure.

    You can learn more about the permit to sell from the city’s application form than the city code itself. (Chapter 58)

    http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/s/Solicitors-Permit.pdf

    From reading the form, I would guess that they only requested a 6-month permit. But that’s not logical, because a year-long permit is the same cost as a 6-month permit.

    Chapter 58 (as well as Chapter 14–these ordinances are somewhat duplicitous but at least they don’t appear to be contradictory) provides that the permit “shall terminate on December 31” of the calendar year in which it is issued. So the Lansing permit should be good until December 31, unless they filled out the application form wrong and requested a shorter term.

    Should be an easy fix to get a valid license. It’ll cost another $60.00 and expire on Dec. 31, but, lesson learned.

    The second issue is the legality of the structure. I’m not seeing anything in the code prohibiting such a structure, but I’ve only made a cursory search over my lunch break. So there’s the unknown…since they stopped selling merchandise anyway, what is it about the structure that is unlawful?

  9. I do not believe that they have stopped selling merchandise. Lee and his employees were out this morning setting up trees. Signs stating they were open were about.

    The lot is very, very full, but it appears that they were mindful of the sidewalks and boulevards this year.

    P.S. Just Food should have their trees in shortly.

  10. Many thanks to Britt for researching the matter. If I decide to buy a tree, I will be looking for one at Lansing’s.

  11. Britt – I know I am taking advantage of your holiday good will for free legal advice … but were a consumer to purchase a tree and wreath at Lansings (not admitting that I am) is there any risk of be charged by authorities for aiding and abetting ? Decorating without a license or such ?

  12. Re: #9 above

    David Henson’s comment on decorating without a license really hit the spot. Thank you, thank you.

  13. If the powers that be have this much free time, perhaps they could go out and repaint some of the pathetically invisible crosswalks in town? stop for a pedestrian here and you take your life in your hands, for the person behind you has a) no idea there’s a law (his fault) and b) no idea there’s a crosswalk (city’s fault).

  14. I do not think the license which is being referenced is the actual one needed since there is a building and the trees are just an extension of the business.
    If my memory serves me right, when the Mayor moved locations, (across the street) he verified with the legal council that his business operations would be acceptable in the new location.
    Asking for additional permits, structures and variances continue to appear to be a continued harassement to the Lansing family. If there was some type of danger, or perhaps “unsightly” outside storage being done, then perhaps I can see some form of code violation. However, in this case again it is not.

  15. Hello all,

    I was away for the holiday. I spoke with Mayor Lee Lansing on Tuesday and he said he believed he would come to some kind of resolution with the city. He said he could give me more details later, but he never called back. It was my understanding from Mr. Olsen that the permit for the greenhouse structure was expired, not a permit for sales.

  16. What is there to resolve?
    Temporary structures are just that. They aren’t designed to withstand heavy snow and ice. One sudden storm and the city and downtown retailers could be left with an unsightly and dangerous pile of twisted metal that can’t be removed until the first thaw. And you can bet that if the structure fails, the owner will plead hardship and ask for delays in removing it.
    The sales can continue, but the temporary structure needs to be gone. The city has allowed it to remain two months past the expiration of the permit, a move that puts staff in a difficult position of showing favoritism to an elected official who should be setting an example by not asking for — or demanding — such favoritism.

  17. I continue to be amazed by Lansing’s flagrant disregard for the laws of this City and State. NO ONE is persecuting or harassing the Lansing family. Lee knows and controls his own actions. He is and has broken the law!

  18. Posted to the Nfld News yesterday aft:

    A Faribault prosecutor will consider whether charges should be pursued against the mayor’s son for operating a business without a permit. Northfield city prosecutor Tim Morisette said Wednesday that negotiations with Mayor Lee Lansing, who has been representing his son, property owner David Lansing, have been unsuccessful, forcing Morisette to ask an unbiased party to look into the case.

  19. We seem to have a few short memories here….
    For twenty years or more … before he was Mayor… Mr. Lansing, at his hardware store immediately joining the current Christmas tree site, had a “garden center” component of his business completely surrounding the parking area; it sold seasonal merchandise, each in its season. Until Knecht’s Nursery developed to its current level, I imagine Lansings’ was where many Northfielders bought their annuals, perennials, mulch, potting soil, etc., each and every summer; their Christmas trees in the winter.

    For the last twelve or so years, maybe longer, there has been a temporary building as part of the complex, as a matter of fact, for some years the same one being used now, and it has survived all manner of storms. That temporary building housed shade plants in the summer and additional Christmas Trees in the winter.

    Around the corner, in the little house on sixth street, for several years we had a wonderful small “garden center” called Stone Creek Gardens; it sold seasonal merchandise, each in its own season, including Christmas trees. It was also a very positive contribution, an enhancement, of the downtown mix.

    So what is the big ‘honking’ difference? Was it OK then… for both parties … and it isn’t now?
    And why, SPECIFICALLY? The ‘shelled’ C1/C2 zoning is actually more generous now than it was several years ago.

    It looks like retail to me; things are bought from a wholesaler and resold to the public in a retail setting.

    Is it that we’re so into total character assassination that if there’s a dead body in the street we have to make sure its dead by driving back and forth over it about fifty times?

    If this has to do with LAW, then state it; if you’re just repeating hyperbole and calling actions ‘crimes’ before they’ve been adjudicated as such, spend some time reading the ordinances and come back with a substantive argument based on actual words and facts … and be ready to consider why “IT” was OK then, but “IT” isn’t now … same situation, same business person(s), different outcome.

    kiffi summa …

  20. Kiffi- I remember right after we moved to Northfield, I was reading the Police Report in the NN. It was reported that a dead cat was found on Hwy. 3. I assumed that the town was pretty laid back if that was the level of excitement that warranted reporting. Now, we have the mayor showing up as road kill. Things have certainly changed in the last 13 years, and maybe not for the better.

    You have a good point about the plant display from the old hardware store. I thought it was a pretty permanent part of the landscape there, and not detracting. I am assuming the structure was not grandfathered in to the new business location when the operation moved to the old Tires Plus site. Pesky things these little ordinances.

  21. John: You said: “Pesky little things these ordinances”.

    Could you please cite the ordinance, number and subdivision, that you think is being “pesky’ for the Mayor?

  22. Kiffi- I found this on the Northfield Building/Inspections page- “Any work involving a structure that is erected, enlarged, repaired, moved or removed requires a separate permit for each building or structure. Call the Building Inspections Division for additional information.” It seems pretty self explanitory to me. I think the city inspector should know if the proper permits were secured for the property in question. If they were, then this episode would appear to be harrassment. If they weren’t, then it would appear to be enforcement.

  23. Someone making economic use of an old beatup tires plus store and actually adding beauty to downtown should get some type of civic metal. Setting aside the politcal problems – Lee Lansing does more for Northfielders than almost anyone I know (at a high personal cost to himself it would appear).

  24. John: If the permit the city is looking for would be the one from the building inspections that you quote , I think the letter asking for correction would be coming from the building inspector, not the planner who is in charge of zoning issues. Also the building official would have posted a big orange/red “stop” notice on the door.
    I think you need to look in the zoning section of the city code under the C2 zoning.

  25. Kiffi- If I understand Bonnie’s post, #16, what is lacking is a renewed permit for the temporary structure. And if I understand the paragraph I quoted in my post #23, it seems this temporary structure would fall under those auspices. As far as the “C2 zoning” code you refer to, this seems to be elusive to find in the Northfield municipal codes posted on the web site. “C2” did not have any cross reference. How do I find this section? Also, what in this section do you believe would exempt Mr. Lansing from requiring a permit? Just wondering.

    I did find this licensing requirement, but I don’t think the issue has anything to do with it:
    Sec. 14-34. Separate license for branch establishments.
    A license shall be obtained in the manner prescribed in this article for each branch establishment or location of the business engaged in, as if each such branch establishment or location were a separate business, provided that warehouses and distributing plants used in connection with and incidental to a business licensed under any section of this article shall not be deemed to be a separate place of business or branch establishment.
    (Code 1986, § 400:00(4))

  26. John: If you look in the City Code under the land use regulations you will find the various commercial zones described with their permitted uses, physical regs, etc. It’s very difficult to read on line; you’re always better off researching it in the City Code book at the Library, if you are really interested.
    Happy searching!

  27. Kiffi- Thanks for the tip. It is good to hear that some things can actually be more easily found in a book rather than on line. I though I was just up against my lack of computer prowess.

  28. The Northfield News has an article on their e-dition. The structure has been removed. No comment, apology, nada, buttkiss from Lansing.

  29. People may sometimes not feel comfortable commenting to the NFNews when their comments have been selectively used to support what seems to be an agenda by the paper.

    People should not be called criminals when there has been nothing adjudicated.

    People should not apologize when the ‘wrong’ is in dispute.

    People should not ******** (what Martha said ) when they are being harassed.

    People should be disturbed, that what was a nice looking Christmas tree lot, with the white auxiliary building covered with garlands and bows and where you could go inside and get a tree that was not frozen and snowy, now is just an ordinary corner former gas station with a lot of very nice trees.

    People should be concerned about who was pushing this so hard, who was so punitive, how was it so important to the city to have this gone, when the same kind of auxiliary structure provided a plant and C-mas tree facility at the hardware store, without interruption for 15 years!

    People should understand that by NOT taking it down, regardless of whether it was right or wrong, the valid( ???) fine was already up to just under $8,000, and going up by hundreds of $$ a day.

    Thanks, Lee, for the twelve years of beautiful ,fresh trees I’ve enjoyed from your business, ( including free delivery on a VERY cold day one year, and …

    Happy Hanukah, a Joyous Kwanzaa, and a Merry Christmas to all.

  30. Oh, Martha, LOL. I believe the word you were seeking is bupkis, although I like your twist on it. It’s a Yiddish word meaning ‘nothing.’ From The Kosher Nosh, here is a handy list of similarly descriptive Yiddish terms than have worked their way into the language of goyim (non-Jews): http://www.koshernosh.com/in-ameri.htm

  31. Anne, thank you for the correction — I did mean bupkis. You’d think I would have gotten this right since I lived for 14 year in St. Louis Park and had a Reform Rabbi, an Orthodox Rabbi, a Hassidic Rabbi and a Greek Orthodox Priest for immediate neighbors! I did not mean to use any off-color language.

    Kiffi, I did not call or say that Lansing was a criminal. All along, all I have said that if he or anyone else breaks the law then the consequenses of their actions should receive the same remedy under the law. Equal treatment — that is my point.

  32. Anne et al, I now understand why my spell check would not/could not correct it. I also had to run through a couple of scenarios for the LOL shorthand — Lots of Luck? Land O’Lakes? Laughing Out Loud — YEAH.

  33. Martha: I did not say you said Lansing was a criminal in your previous post; I made a general statement about such comments. I’m ‘disappointed’ in your mis-assumption.

    As to equal treatment: where else in the C1 or C2 district is there a semi-permanent auxiliary building that was taken down; therefor requiring this one to be taken down to preserve equal treatment?
    This exact same type of structure ,if not THE same structure was adjoining the hardware store for 15 years or more… long before Mr. Lansing was the Mayor. It was then treated as not a temporary, but an auxiliary structure, because of the nature of its supporting frame.

    What has changed? That was then; this is now.

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