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City rejects Kahler's request for extended smoke-free zone

Kahler requests buffer affecting about six blocks

By Jeffrey Pieters

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

The Kahler Grand Hotel’s request of the Rochester City Council to extend a smoke-free zone from the hotel to the Mayo Clinic was quickly extinguished.

At a discussion meeting on Monday, only one council member spoke in support of the request from Bruce Fairchild, who oversees the downtown hotel as regional director of operations for its owner, Sunstone Hotel Properties.

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That council member was Ed Hruska, who said the number of cigarette butts left on the ground around the Kahler is becoming a problem.

"The one thing to keep in mind is we’re putting substantial investment into this part of our community," he said.

Others considered the request, which would convert about six blocks of city streets and sidewalks to smoke-free, either impractical to manage and enforce or an infringement of smokers’ rights.

"It’s a legal substance, and it’s public property," said council member Pat Carr. "Puff on."

Fairchild’s request, outlined in an Oct. 1 letter to the city council and Mayor Ardell Brede, described how smokers create a "smoke screen" for hotel guests who are also patients at Mayo Clinic.

"These visitors to Rochester need to be assured that they can receive medical care and breathe fresh air," Fairchild wrote. "Not experience the dirty cigarette butts and the smoke screen."

The smoke-free zone Fairchild requested would have covered all four sides around the Kahler Grand Hotel, plus one block of Center Street between the Gonda Building and Methodist Hospital, plus the Peace Plaza and one-half block of First Avenue south of the plaza.

The city council has the legal power to enact such a ban, City Administrator Steve Kvenvold said. The zone would have required signs labeling it as a smoke-free zone.

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The problem, said council member Bruce Snyder, would have been that additional requests for smoke-free zones would surely come.

"We might as well just open the agenda for multiples every week," Snyder said. "It doesn’t stop here."

The Peace Plaza, including the new extension west to the doorstep of the Gonda Building, still likely will be made smoke-free under the state and county smoking laws that took effect this month.

Police Chief Roger Peterson said community police that will serve downtown will have the power to ticket smokers for littering if they drop butts on the sidewalk. Littering is a misdemeanor offense, carrying a penalty up to $1,000 and 90 days in jail — though Peterson said it is unlikely any violation would carry such a harsh penalty.

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