Monday, August 1, 2011

Working from home is a reality - Dunwoody moves with glacial speed to acknowledge it

From the Dunwoody Crier coming to a driveway near you tomorrow morning:

After 4 months, Dunwoody approves permit for violin lessons from teacher’s home

Heather Chlup finally has passed the final hurdle to obtaining a special land use permit (SLUP) from the city of Dunwoody so she can give violin lessons from her home on Brierwood Place. City Council Monday unanimously passed the application on second reading, ending an arduous four-month process.

Read the full article here.

I held off on blogging about this particular issue for quite a while. Heather and I had chatted about her embarking on this enterprise and at the time, I had NO idea that she would be the first to endure it. And "endure" is the word.  She never intended to be a "cause celebre" for the Crier or for a blog.  I hope some good comes out of it - like customers.

The paperwork and extra expenses were somewhat expected. But the vicious cloak-and-dagger email campaigns by a homeowners' association were not. This was the same lot that organized a loud, angry mob at a meeting for an ill-advised rezoning.

It is time to realize that working from home is not the death-knell of a cozy neighborhood and does not mean the neighborhood streets will turn into bustling commercial centers.

It is also time to realize that for a community to survive as the economy changes, it's important to have the most flexibility for its residents to make a living. That "perfectly safe, perfectly sane" world of "bedroom communities" where Dad come shome at 5 o'clock sharp every night and leaves his hat on the hatrack before sitting down with the newspaper were only a reality in 1950s' sitcoms. If you think I'm overly concerned, take a look at South DeKalb county. Once a growing residential community, now it is stagnating in poverty. There's no reason why that can't happen to Dunwoody if we don't keep reasonable options open for business and its income.

Rather than make up a new blog, I'll copy and paste the letter I wrote to City Council in advance of their final review. (This was in addition to several others I had written to earlier-level commissions.)

From: SDOC Publishing []
Sent: Friday, July 08, 2011 1:56 PM


Subject: SLUP for 4607 Brierwood Place

Hi folks—

I know most of you are aware of the above SLUP and the discussions going on around it. This is my formal, in-writing endorsement of the SLUP and request that you vote in favor of it when it’s gone through the motions at Council. A previously scheduled meeting prevents me from speaking to it in person on Monday.

For the future, I believe it is time for the City to have a very serious re-evaluation of the ordinances regarding home-based businesses and home-based employees. Working from home has been a part of life since this country was founded. It isn’t something new, although technology and economic constraints have made it an easier choice in recent years. There are at least half a dozen residents in my tiny subdivision alone who work from home as business owners or telecommuters. Sometimes we even work with each other. Yet legally, we are all restricted from doing so. Even inside our homes where there is no inherent nuisance to anyone else.

It has been my experience as both a business owner and homeowner that the ordinance as written is overly restrictive and punitive, to the point of being unenforceable and unrealistic. My business (web development) mostly involves the phone and internet. However all business – including mine - requires human contact at some point. All business is not necessarily a store front on a main street with parking lots, as Heather’s application demonstrates. Any conversation regarding a client or their project is against the law! For example:

1) I could have a gathering of 20 people in my house for a club meeting, with as many cars on the street for hors d’oeuvres and conversation. It is perfectly legal according to current ordinances. If one of those people solicits my input as a professional on their web project during that gathering, I have now violated the law. (Note: this actually happened. I hosted the Board of Assistants of the Georgia Mayflower Society in my house. Huge afternoon cocktail thing. Cars parked up and down the street. Everyone was careful not to block driveways or be obnoxious, so there was no problem. But I got really nervous when another board member asked for my input on a web presence for the Society. I have to start with the disclaimer, "We can't talk about this outside because this is my work and I'm breaking the law by discussing it in my house. " Yes, really!)

2) When making a formal presentation to a new client that I do not know well, I either set up shop in Starbucks or rent a corporate meeting room from my mail store. A lot of times, though, I work for clients who are good friends. If a good friend comes over for coffee and chats about the weather, there is no problem. But if they sit in my dining room to discuss their website, I’ve broken the law. (Also happened. I wonder if Chief Grogan is going to arrest me now....)

3) Some of my past clients live on my street. If they walk over to my house (or, if I walk over to theirs) to chat about Halloween, that is allowable. If the conversation turns to their website, we have both broken the law – because we are both resident homeowners doing business in another private residence. (Ditto)

Pretty silly, isn’t it? And yet, that is what is on the books. Not only are these laws unenforceable because enforcement would require measures tantamount to stalking, it leaves business owners and home-based employees vulnerable to complaints based ... on something as petty as a personality conflict. Or the prejudices of an overzealous community activist. Even if a complaint is found to be without merit, the business owner/employee must spend time and money fighting it, just as Heather did in her application. It just isn’t fair.

It is time to bring city ordinances regarding home-based employees and owners in line with reality. There is no major threat to the “residential nature” of our subdivisions by allowing a business owner to have occasional human contact on their property commensurate with that expected by non-commercial property use. There is no benefit to punishing freelancers with arduous and expensive applications because someone might want to visit in person on occasion. It is a waste of tax money to attempt enforcement and a waste of community spirit and goodwill to nano-manage this very common practice.

I know that some of you will not be on Council after the next election. Be that as it may, the conversation on what constitutes reasonable business use at home in this day and age of economic difficulties and a greater push for “sustainability” should start sooner rather than later.


Adrienne Duncan

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions
2090 Dunwoody Club Drive
Suite 106-124
Atlanta, GA 30350

No comments: