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Tobacco ordinance conflicts with developments in City of Renville

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Miguel Albartz, foreground, and Carlos Juarez of Musch Construction in Pipestone help build the Dollar General Store in Renville.

RENVILLE - The City of Renville will have to decide whether to opt out of a Renville County ordinance aimed at preventing tobacco use by youth, or lose a potential convenience store development.

The county ordinance adopted in 2015 prohibits the granting of licenses to sell tobacco "within 1,000 feet of any school, playground, house of worship, or youth-oriented facility."

Two developments in the City of Renville are within 350 feet of youth-oriented facilities.

Construction is underway on a Dollar General Store with U.S. Highway 212 frontage in the city. It cannot be licensed to sell tobacco and meet the county's ordinance.

Casey's General Store has a purchase agreement for the property where Renville Antiques & Collectibles is located, also with Highway 212 frontage. The site cannot be licensed for tobacco sales under the county ordinance either.

Casey's made clear that it will not build its store unless it has a license to sell tobacco. It asked the county to amend the ordinance to accommodate the development.

The inability to sell tobacco would put the store at "an unfair competitive disadvantage," stated Mikael Lage, store operations for Casey's General, in the request to the county. "Unfortunately Casey's cannot build this store in the City of Renville without the ability to sell tobacco products,'' Lage stated.

The Renville County board of commissioners discussed the request on Tuesday. They informally agreed not to put the issue on an upcoming agenda for consideration, meaning the ordinance will remain as it is.

County Attorney David Torgelson told the commissioners that the City of Renville has the option of opting out of the tobacco ordinance, and creating its own that would remove the 1,000-foot restriction. He previously made the Renville city council aware of the option as well. The council has held two special meetings to discuss the dilemma that has put economic development and the tobacco ordinance in conflict.

Mayor Janette Wertish told the county board of commissioners that council members are supportive of the Casey's project. Asked by the commissioners if the council would opt out of the county ordinance, the mayor responded: "Well, we have a council that is pretty adamant about putting that Casey store there and that is all I can say.''

The mayor noted that the council previously approved a setback for the project that will put a privacy fence for the store within three feet of a children's bedroom on the south side of the store.

Dollar General has not formally requested action on the tobacco ordinance but its stores also sell tobacco products. The company has taken a "wait and see" approach on the issue, according to information from the City of Renville. (Dollar General also has a project in Fairfax that appears to be within 1,000 feet of a church and public library, according to information the City of Renville presented to county officials.)

If the City of Renville drafts its own tobacco ordinance and drops the 1,000-foot setback requirement, members of the alliance said after the meeting that they would encourage the city to consider other measures to discourage youth tobacco use. They include options such as banning the sale of flavored tobacco or raising the purchasing age to 21.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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