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Brainerd City Council: Council clashes with cab company

A taxi cab operated by Grab-A-Cab taxi service of Brainerd. Submitted photo

The Brainerd City Council Monday night butted heads with a taxi cab business owner over where taxi cabs are parked.

Ronnie Schnichels, owner of Grab-A-Cab LLC, owns and operates a three-vehicle taxi service. In November 2016, the Brainerd City Council issued a license for Schnichels to operate one taxi cab from her residence on South Ninth Street. Since then, she has added two more taxi cabs and moved her residence to a rental property on North Fifth Street.

Monday, the council approved a motion on a 6-1 vote to notify Schnichels and her landlord of the zoning ordinance regulating home businesses. Specifically, two criteria stating the property owner must give written consent to the business owner operating a business at the property, and only one commercial vehicle is allowed at the property. Council President Dave Pritschet voted against the motion.

According to a memo on the issue, the planning department believes the business does not fit the criteria for a home business. Monday, council member Kelly Bevans said the notification motion follows legal advice, stating the ordinance as written is "pretty broad." The motion is intended to provide guidance to the property owner and the business owner, he said.

In a Wednesday interview with the Brainerd Dispatch, Schnichels said the city didn't notify her the council would be discussing her business prior to Monday. She found out about the issue by seeing her address in the agenda printed in the Brainerd Dispatch the day before the meeting.

"Didn't know what I was walking into at all," Schnichels said.

The safety and public works committee held a public hearing during its meeting prior to the council meeting Monday. Schnichels said the city was concerned about her running a day care and a taxi cab business out of her home, neither of which she does.

Schnichels said she doesn't run a day care business and her taxi cab business is mobile-based. Dispatch calls come through her cellphone and she does business paperwork at a different location, she said.

Schnichels' father drives one of the taxi cabs, she said, so her business is a family business. Her father has previously driven taxi cabs in the Twin Cities and in Brainerd, she said. Multiple cabs will be parked at her home when she invites him and her other driver to her home for meals, she said.

"I'll invite the cabs over for about 20 minutes, we'll eat and then they'll go onto their calls," Schnichels said. "Apparently that was a huge problem and I don't quite understand that."

Schnichels' neighbors have been friendly and she hasn't fielded any complaints about taxi cabs being parked at her house. She hasn't received notice from the city about complaints either, she said.

"I was blindsided," Schnichels said.

Schnichels recently finalized a lease for a commercial building in Brainerd where the business will be based, she said. She will do paperwork there and the taxi cabs will be parked there when they aren't being used.

The city has notified landscaping companies about the one commercial vehicle rule, city Planner Mark Ostgarden said Monday. This sounds like a different situation than one involving trailers and landscaping equipment, Pritschet said.

"Like it or not, the language says 'one vehicle,'" Ostgarden said.

The company can park more than one vehicle at the residence, Ostgarden said, but if the city receives complaints about it, Schnichels will be notified and potentially cited for code violations.

Spenser Bickett

Spenser Bickett covers the Brainerd City Council and education. A native of the Twin Cities, Bickett attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he majored in journalism with a minor in political science. After graduation, he worked for the International Falls Journal as a staff writer before coming to Brainerd.

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