Can you smell that smell?  Cambridge considers nuisance complaint against Maytag

Over the years, the City of Cambridge has had the need to address a variety of complaints regarding unpleasant odors emanating from places such as J. Rettenmaier USA LP (formerly known as SunOpta), the city’s wastewater treatment plant, or even from someone that got a little over-aggressive with their lawn fertilizer. But during their March 15 council meeting, the city considered a complaint from a new source - the Maytag Laundromat.

According to Assistant City Administrator Evan Vogel, the city received two complaints back in September and October from the same person, stating odors coming from Maytag Laundry were causing scratchy throats and headaches. Additionally, the headlights from cars pulling into Maytag’s parking lot were shining in their windows.

Vogel said the owner of Maytag responded to a letter alerting him of the complaint. In that letter, the owner stated he’s never had an odor issue with any of his laundromats. The owner also requested the city do an air quality test to determine the legitimacy of the complaint. Vogel said an estimate from SEH for an air quality test came back as costing the city $3,500.

“Things that are fume related are hard to tell,” Vogel told the council. “You’re talking about an air quality issue and it is very challenging to say outright whether this is or is not a problem.”

Council Member Kersten Barfknecht-Conley asked if that sort of a test was conducted when the building was built, noting that took place just over a year ago. Vogel indicated that to his knowledge, Maytag passed all of their inspections back then.

“I don’t see why we should have to pay for it,” Barfknecht-Conley said. “It’s a new building, it was inspected, there were no problems.”

Mayor Jim Godfrey asked City Attorney Jay Squires if they failed to act on this complaint, would the city be open to some sort of liability issue? Squires told the council they would not, adding the council could contact other residents of the area to see if they too experienced issues.

Council Member Mark Ziebarth asked for confirmation that it was only one person complaining, and that person didn’t live directly next to the laundromat? Vogel confirmed it was only one person, and City Administrator Lynda Woulfe confirmed the person does not live directly next to it, but due to data privacy, they can’t reveal any additional information that might reveal the identity of the complainant.

Godfrey said he didn’t think the city should do the air quality test based only on one complaint, however he would be open to having city staff check with neighbors about similar experiences.

As for the headlight issue, Vogel said there are some trees and the building itself that do block the headlights, but there are also a few parking spots where headlights could conceivably shine into the neighboring properties.

Ultimately, a motion by Ziebarth to direct staff to investigate the issue by contacting other area residents died due to a lack of a second. The council then decided to take no action at all.

Odds and ends

In other action, the council:

Approved an ordinance amendment for the Parks, Trails, and Recreation Commission that allows the Cambridge-Isanti Schools’ representative on the commission to not be a city resident, as long as that person is employed by the district’s Community Education Department. If the representative isn’t employed by Community Ed, however, they must still be a Cambridge resident. Vogel said the school district was having trouble finding someone willing to replace Ziebarth, who was their representative until he was elected to the council. Godfrey pointed out that Community Ed works very closely with that commission, so a person employed by Community Ed would have a vested interest in the commissions’ actions even though they might not live in the city.

Approved a feasibility report proposal from SEH for the possible street and utility improvements to North Garfield Street, which would include extending the street from 2nd Ave NE to North Emerson Street. The cost of the feasibility report will not exceed $47,500. Woulfe said there is someone interested in purchasing city lots in the area, but there would need to be infrastructure improvements before the purchase would be made.

Approved awarding City Hall repairs to C&H Remodeling in the amount of $7,482.52. The repairs are needed due to a water pipe that froze and leaked during the recent cold snap.

Tabled a variance request for an accessory structure at 831 11th Ave SW. According to Vogel, that lot is vacant, but the owner, who also owns the adjacent lot, would like to construct a 16x32 foot structure on the vacant lot, which isn’t allowable under city code. The owner told staff she has no intention of selling either lot, but if she did, she would remove the structure. The council was split 2-2 over allowing the variance or requiring the owner to combine the two lots into one large lot. Therefore, the council agreed to table the topic until the next meeting when Council Member Lisa Iverson, who was absent from this meeting, could break the tie vote.



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