Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Home Occupation Updates from Planning Commission

Last night was the perfect storm from Hell.  Husband gets home late from a meeting and I leave my carefully crafted notes on a table by the door as I rush out to City Hall, arriving half an hour late. 

Then discover that I am the only representative of The Public in attendance.

John's blog outlined the changes that were being made in the Zoning ordinance (which is temporary anyway, more on that later) that would affect home-based businesses and employees.

The bottom line is, most of the changes are being accepted as is - that home occupations may allow customer or employee contact, with some limitations.  The verbage regarding home-based daycare centers is being removed due to the fact that day care centers are going to have several "customers" in the home for several hours a day, with several parents picking up and dropping off in a short spurt each day.  Since I'm not familiar with all of the licensing and regulations and logistics of a home-based day care center, I'm going to hold comment on that one.  If someone out there is familiar with home-based daycare and would like to comment, the floor (comments area) is yours.

However - there still is a hearing process in place for any home-based work/business that will receive customers or employees and there was enormous resistance to any changes at all.  My friend Heather was dragged through FIVE meetings because the City staff had trouble reading their own regulations.  It was only supposed to be three.  After some verbal arm twisting the Commission whittled the number of hearings down to one (in front of Planning Commission) so that "the public can be notified".

In an ideal world, neighbors would talk to each other and bring issues to each other without dragging City Hall into it.  However we do not live in an ideal world and some neighbors would rather whine to the DHA or email nastygram blasts than talk to the person and attempt to resolve whatever questions they have.

There's some pros and cons to the recommendations.

Pro:  the business owner/employee has some protection in that they will get a fair hearing in public and can bring supporters to speak on their behalf.  Their fate is not at the mercy of an individual with an axe to grind, Internet access, and too much time on their hands.

Con:  for those business owners with irregular or occasional customer contact (as described in earlier posts) the process is the same.  There has to be public notification, additional expense, additional time spent, all to casually meet a single person - who may be visiting anyway in a non-business capacity - every few months or so.

Con:  Loophole City.  The zoning code places a greater burden on a homeowner for a "nuisance" allegedly caused by a business enterprise, than a "nuisance" allegedly caused by a social event. 

Is this the outcome that I believe will benefit the City in the long run?  No.  Is it a step in the right direction?  Yes, and I credit the PC with that because redefining the nature of a "residential neighborhood" is a huge question and there is a lot of persuasion involved in convincing some sectors of the public that they will not be harmed by it.  In addition, the Zoning Code as we see it today is not long for this world.  An RFP was recently awarded (but not linked on the City site) to completely revamp Zoning.  As I said at Community Council not long ago, the first step in setting up a comprehensive Zoning code is to clearly define "nuisance" - when do you have a problem that should involve City Hall, when you should talk to your neighbor, and when you should put on your grownup underpants and just deal with it - then use that definition as a uniform standard for any and all activity in a particular zoned area.

The question for "casual business visitors" is whether to go to the trouble of obeying the law.  Is it more trouble than it's worth to drag your case of one-visitor-every-three-months through public hearings?  Or do you feel safe under a "don't-ask-don't-tell" philosophy?  I'm usually in favor of obeying the law to the letter.  But do I submit the extra money and time into a process, or do I invest in doing the work I'm paid for?  For many entrepreneurs that's going to be a tough call for a while.

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