Friday, January 6, 2012

Business-Related Agenda Items at City Hall on Monday

Attention business owners in Dunwoody:  pay attention to the City Council agenda on January 9.  There's lots of crunchy issues that will affect many in our business community.

FIRST READ: Amendments to the Text of Chapter 27, Sections 27-183, 27-185, and 27-1321Regarding Home Occupations in the R-100 (Single-Family Residential) District and“Supplemental Regulations.” 
To review, there are several hundred home-based businesses operating inside of Dunwoody - about 20% of the licensed institutions, according to some estimates.  As of now, unless a proprietor is willing to put themselves through a merciless gauntlet of sequential meetings, city hall missteps, and occasional hysteria, a single customer may not enter a home to do business.  Enforcement is difficult as most of these companies will adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy of occasional customer contact and there is a double standard regarding traffic and parking between strictly "traditional" residential use and work-at-home use.

This amendment will allow customer contact by right in R-100 residential districts under conditions that will prevent business traffic (vehicle, human, etc) from exceeding that expected in an active residential community.

Given that a comprehensive zoning rewrite is on the horizon and re-evaluating zoning is always a hazard, I believe that these amendments are very fair both to non-working residential homeowners, and entrepreneurs or business owners who need to use their home for work.

Now with that said...  there is room for improvements.

For example - no one has adequately answered the question, "Why just R-100?  Why not R-75, R-50, etc?"  The city memo points out this discrepancy.  The test case that these amendments were inspired by is zoned R-50, which makes the restriction even more ironic.

Then there is this section:
(11) Home Occupations shall be limited to a maximum of 2 business related visitors at any time. Business related visitors include but are not limited to employees, business partners, contractors, subcontractors, clients, customers, students, etc.
This is new in that customers are not the only ones restricted.  Originally, the ordinance was silent on contractors, et al.  Now there is a limit 2 (or 4, depending on which version goes through).   We're still in "don't ask, don't tell" land.  Contractors for "residential purposes" are not limited.  But if you use your home for your business, and you have a contractor painting or repairing it, is that residential or business?  How would you know?  How would you enforce any penalties for the latter?  These questions can't be addressed in a mere amendment; I look forward to the thought behind the comprehensive rewrite of the zoning code.

And for today's giggle:

(18) Home occupation with customer contact shall not include the use of a dwelling unit for the purpose of operating a massage therapy, psychic, fortuneteller, tattoo, and/or body piercing establishment.
I am still waiting for any member of city government from the council on down to state with a straight face why this sentence is necessary.

There is also no condition expressly stated that would ensure that a business based in a home would remain a residence.  Not that it would ever be permitted to happen but I can just see someone trying to pull a fast one by opening a business at home, then saying, "Oopsy-daisy!  I need to expand, let's rezone to retail."  Um, no.  It's not worth the inevitable hassle and bad karma.  Just put it on the record that home-based businesses have to remain a residence first and you spare yourself a ton of drama down the road.  

I am glad to see this type of legislation finally being added and I look forward to showing the skeptics that the ~500 home-based business owners are not a threat to their homes.

2)  "Branding" (read:  redevelopment) of Georgetown

First thing you notice about these proposals is how they are awash in the currently fashionable, politically-correct buzzwords of "multi-use", "mixed use", "transit village", "transit-oriented",  "transit-friendly" "livable centers", and "(insert niche group here) - friendly" .  Once you sweep away all that static and get down to the legitimate suggestions, there's an interesting mixed bag.

Next thing you notice is that every one of these plans suggests the construction of more-than-single-family density on any piece of land available.  Townhomes are multifamily housing too, gang, so think carefully how that conflicts with the general public consensus of "no more higher-density" housing.  Either the company that created this plan thinks we're not going to notice the conflict, or they don't care.

Different pages have conflicting recommendations.  Page 24 recommends more "open spaces/parks" but elsewhere in the document, those same open spaces are recommended for some kind of housing.  Can't have it both ways.  The example of the old Shallowford ES site stands out.  Why not make this a recreational space as a buffer between the commercial and residential areas (can the gymnasium be renovated or is it beyond repair?) instead of more townhouses?  

I would be cautious about building communities on the promise of access to bus stations.  MARTA is notorious for changing schedules or deleting routes altogether.  What would happen if you built a nice community with the promise of transit access and then MARTA pulled the route?  Who is willing to gamble that much time, effort, and money when the "mass transit" draw isn't guaranteed - and why?

Page 6 of the zoning analysis is an example of what I described before as an overly-objective analysis of a business use that disregards the realities of the consumer's use of it.  They showcase an image of the Georgetown Kroger as "undesirable" because it has "parking out front" and is "auto dominated".  No kidding, Kojak!!  When shoppers go to the store to stock up, they drive their cars and they want to park out front!  Sounds pretty darn desirable to me.  Even the Dunwoody Green Market packs the parking lot with minivans and SUVs, not bicycles.  They all vie for the closest space too, no one wants to walk an extra 10 -20 feet back to their car!   This is what happens when you guide your "sounding boards" with static pictures separated from real-life property usage and elicit emotional reactions separate from their actual behavior.  I don't think the person(s) who wrote this was stupid - but they believe that we citizens are.

On the other hand, the proposal is also surprisingly specific about the business opportunities in this region.  The housing (proposed and current) will cover almost every demographic:  older seniors, younger couples and singles, and families with children.  So your potential customer demo is:  people who are alive.  About 2 miles away is Perimeter Mall and you also have Dunwoody Village nearby.  The report points out the potential competition, but also the opportunity for a different business approach.  The opportunity is ripe for businesses that are:
a)  small enough to not be able to afford rent at the Perimeter
b)  large enough to require a storefront
c)  not currently available in Dunwoody Village
d)  can market to any of the above age demographics and/or their subgroups
e)  is locally owned to appeal to the community spirit.

See page 49 ("Retail Targets") and the "Detailed Market Assesment Report".  Not only does it line up the dots, it connects them for you.  IMHO, best part of the whole report.  

Local entrepreneurs and niche marketers rejoice - this is your place!

BTW - "Branding" takes up only a couple of paragraphs and finally gets mentioned on page 52.  In general I am not impressed with a lot of the suggestions because of the "buzzword bingo" mentioned above but I do believe they are on track with suggestions of a focal point in the PVC farm.  This *is* the place to elicit a positive emotional bond - like The Farmhouse in Dunwoody Village.  IMHO, it's a good idea to have some kind of symbol and expression of pride in every commercial center in town.  The Farmhouse will always be "THE" emotional heart of the city but if you strengthen the identity of other centers as well, the whole city will benefit.  Don't underestimate the value of symbolism in this process.

That's enough for one day.  Back to work!

1 comment:

Joe Hirsch said...

To make us feel good about the Georgetown area, Mayor Wright and city leaders held a ribbon cutting at the PVC park just before the parks bond vote (though they were not trying to influence the vote, lol). However, the city press release for the ribbon cutting was very careful not to say what the ribbon cuting was for - they didn't use the word "park" because they have other plans for it, but won't tell us. It was a ribbon cutting for nothing. How dumb do our leaders think we are? Very