Zoning for the future: Off-sale liquor, cannabis, tobacco and sexually-oriented businesses

The City of Albert Lea is studying how to best regulate off-sale liquor, cannabis, tobacco and sexually-oriented businesses.

“Cannabis is changing Minnesota in many ways. As a city government, we need to make sure the changes to Albert Lea are not detrimental to our residents and our existing businesses,” said Wayne Sorensen, building and planning official.

“The location of these businesses will affect Albert Lea for decades, so we want to proceed cautiously,” he added.

Proposed zoning law

The Development Services Department is proposing a zoning law that would limit the locations for new cannabis, off-sale liquor, tobacco and sexually-oriented businesses.

Under the draft zoning ordinance, new adult-focused businesses would be prohibited in residential areas, Albert Lea’s historic downtown, an area around downtown, and areas along interstates.

In other areas, new off-sale liquor, cannabis and tobacco businesses would need to be at least 1,000 feet from a school or 500 feet from day cares, residential treatment facilities, or attractions within a public park that is regularly used by minors, including playgrounds or athletic fields.

New sexually-oriented businesses would need to be at least 1,000 feet from a school or 500 feet from residential areas, parks, recreational areas, public theaters, shopping centers and airports. They would need to be at least 1,500 feet from interstate highways.

Existing adult-focused businesses can continue to operate in their current locations. However, expanding in their current locations may be prohibited, depending on the final law adopted by the Albert Lea City Council.

The draft law may change based on:
• Public input
• Planning Commission review and recommendations
• City Council review and final decisions
• Minnesota Legislature actions
• League of Minnesota Cities recommendations

The Development Services Department is seeking input from a wide spectrum of interested parties as part of a study on how to best regulate adult-focused businesses.

As part of its study, the department will consider:
• Public health
• Safety
• Neighboring properties
• Economic viability
• Public assets
• General welfare of the city

For more information and to comment:

Wayne Sorensen
Building and Zoning Official
[email protected]

Steps in process

After taking public input through early summer, the Development Services Department will present a draft zoning law to the Albert Lea Planning Commission for its review and recommendations. The draft law will then go to the Albert Lea City Council for its review, discussion, potential changes and final adoption, likely in late summer of 2024.

After the council adopts a zoning law for adult-focused businesses, city staff will develop recommendations on administering controls and licensing of these businesses. These controls, including the number of adult-focused businesses allowed, will also go through the review process with the city council making the final decision.


To ensure an equitable approach to regulating off-sale alcohol, cannabis, tobacco and sexually-oriented businesses, the Albert Lea City Council decided May 13 to put a pause on applications for new, expanding or relocating these types of businesses. The moratorium will be 6 months or less.

Existing businesses can continue to operate. They may also apply for renewal of their licenses, or transferring them to new owners as long as the business space remains the same.

The moratorium is in response to Minnesota legalizing recreational use of marijuana in 2023 and allowing new types of cannabis businesses to open in 2025 or earlier. The city council is concerned about the placement of cannabis businesses and regulating them with parity in regards to tobacco product shops, off-sale liquor and sexually oriented businesses.

The council is also concerned that these businesses will be concentrated in areas of Albert Lea where the community has invested in maintaining a historic nature or where minors would be exposed to products they are prohibited from buying.