Monday, January 9, 2012

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Dunwoody City Council Meeting January 9.

The short version:  paranoia and hate mail campaigns win the day.  Home based business owners can not expect any rights from this Council.  Except for the right to pay taxes to the city.

The long version:

The first read of the home occupation amendment was converted to a "discussion" per Heneghan.  He insisted that the council "slow down" on its recommendations regarding home business owner rights.  I guess 10 months of discussion is moving too fast for him.

The neighborhood nazis have the ears of the council. Bonser related an anecdote about an "illegal" business causing traffic problems.  She did not say if the people involved in the "illegal" operation were penalized in some way.  Heneghan claimed that the sign ordinance in combination with this new ordinance will allow homes to have commercial signage.  What the sign ordinance has to do with occasional customer contact was never made clear.  Home based operations are not permitted to have signage, period.  Shortal also shot down any expansion of home business owner rights.  He also was skeptical of having a page of links to community organizations on the Dunwoody city government page.  Deutsch explained that the Community Council wanted to streamline the process for home business SLUP applications.  Nall asked questions that pointed out difficulties in the practical application of parts of the amendment.  Thompson and Davis were silent.

There are some glaring contradictions in the "discussion".

Heneghan and Bonser are concerned with "unintended consequences" of allowing home businesses to visit with customers at home.  They were not concerned, however, with the unintended consequences of allowing the same homeowners to raise farm animals in their backyards.  The "needs" of a half dozen families indulging a hobby carry more weight than 500 families making a living.  Hmmmmmm..............

Concerns were expressed regarding "deliveries" at odd hours of the night that would disturb neighbors.  Concerns were not expressed about DeKalb Sanitation or the USPS making rounds as late as 9 PM the past few weeks.  Double hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmms.............

The council expresses concerns about potential parking issues due to home based customer contact.  The same council is not concerned about the inconvenience of street parking for any other reason.   Especially when it is provided by the city as Joe Hirsch pointed out in his public comment. Triple hmmmmmmmmmmmms...........

The council is concerned for neighbors who may be "annoyed" by a home based business.  The council is not concerned about home business owners being harassed by council members' friends in HOAs.  Home business owners have no protection from accusations of "nuisance" that stem from a personality conflict or other frivolous source.  If there is a conflict, the blame will always be placed on the business owner.  I'm running out of hmmmmmmmmmms.

I have no hope that the "discussion" of this ordinance amendment is going to get anywhere.  The general assumption is that all home business owners are careless, evil, and the perpetrators of all things uncomfortable.  Any opinion defending a home business owner that did respect their neighbors was dismissed as an aberration.  Several hundred business owners smeared with a handful of anecdotes with no supporting evidence and no chance for appeal.  This is what Dunwoody calls "transparency in government."  I give up.

I do not and will not advocate violating the law. However tonight's discussion made it clear that homeowners who work from home will not have any rights or protections afforded them.   You can still apply for your SLUP if you insist, but you are subject to wholesale smear campaigns and whatever other tricks City Hall demands.  I predict that most home business owners will default back to "don't ask, don't tell".  The standard, per Bonser, is set by the scofflaws who do not bother to get licensed or pay their taxes.  All others are judged by that lowest denominator.

Is it worth it for a home based business to obey the licensing laws?

I believe not.  There are great expenses in time and effort with no support or positive acknowledgement from the city, and unchecked harassment from community activists.

Should every home based business obey the law anyway?

That's up to you.


Max said...

"Slow down, you move too fast, you've got to make the moment last . . . I've got no deeds to do, no promises to keep . . ."

Courtesy: Simon And Garfunkel
Feeling Groovy (59th St. Bridge Song)

Ten months is not a long time in terms of vetting an important zoning change that affects most all Dunwoody residential neighborhoods. I think you invoked Godwin' Rule, mentioning "hitler or nazi" too soon in the discussion (:>).

I appreciate this issue is personal to you, and you are a 'good neighbor' business offering no compelling reason for neighbors to object to your business. Others may disagree.

The home business issue will be resolved, especially with continued input from residents. 500 home-based business ought not lose hope on this!

Anonymous said...


I bet the chicken people wish Witty never raised the issue and kept chicken raising as 'don't ask don't tell'.

What protections do you seek?

Residential = residential. I have no problem with home offices, but do share concerns for home businesses.

Don's ask Don't tell is not a bad thing - accept it

Bob Lundsten said...

Over the edge on this one
My felings about home buisnesses and commercial activity in residential zoned land is clear.
You want to run your home business, do it just do not have clients cming to your house. If you need an office to do that then rent one.
The slippary slope that this creates is real. How do you control the numbers of customers?
How do you distingwuish between friends over for a cup of coffee versus those who are there to have their taxes to be done.
The signage issue is real. Currently code enforcement allows ANY sign to be put up that measures no more that 2x3. Stupid but true.
So if you allow in home, there is nothing that would stop you from hanging a 6 square foot sign in your nieghborhood as well.
Business that require customer contact do not belong in residential neighborhoods as a property right.
Now back to Tim Tebow

Bob Lundsten said...

One last thing. you might think it is clever to call someone a neighborhood NAZI. I find it disgusting.
Those activists that you cmplain about have their property rights as well. You are trying to increase your rights over theirs.
They are asking for the laws to be enforced. Shame on you on this one mom

SDOC Publishing Internet Solutions said...

Bob, Bob, Bob....

I was going to let this issue go for now and move on until some offline discussions had happened. But you wanted to bring it up. Mmmmmkay.....

Last summer you were defending the right of a music teacher to teach in her home. Now you're talking about "slippery slopes". Back then you were talking about how reasonable it was to have individual students. Now you are asking how to control the numbers of customers.

You are talking about two entirely different things as if they are one and the same. The only difference is a few months. Why did you change your mind?

You ask, "How do you distingwuish between friends over for a cup of coffee versus those who are there to have their taxes to be done." That's the same question I've been asking numerous times on this blog. The way the law is written, it's impossible to distinguish and leaves the business owner open to bogus complaints from someone with a vendetta.

The sign ordinance continues to be a five-star cluster. How many people have to be impacted before someone comes up with a practical sign ordinance?

On that last topic. I repeated a term that is routinely used as a nickname for a certain individual. If you don't care for it - bummer. I didn't invent it. I submit that the activity I observed first hand has not had anything to do with protecting property rights or laws. If it were, there wouldn't be email-based hate campaigns, threats of demonstrations, or deliberate lying about the intentions of a business owner. You know all of this - you were there for the discussion.

Finally, this statement: "You are trying to increase your rights over theirs." is patently false. I have described numerous times in person and on this blog that at-home business owners are held to a much stricter standard in terms of how many people may visit a home, parking, etc etc etc. At home business owners are also vulnerable to false complaints by these activists whose POV is incongrous with that of immediate neighbors who are more aware of the impact (or lack thereof) of an at-home firm. I'm not demanding greater rights because I'm a business owner - I'm asking for equal standards of home use and protection from individual vendettas.

Where on earth did this come from and why is your opinion suddenly opposite the one you expressed a few months ago?

Sight Edman said...

A survey of these 500 home based businesses might yield an interesting taxonomy. The legal ones have a license, file and pay the odious "occupation tax". Can we not get sanitized records that show number of employees?

I suspect a vast majority of these businesses are one-to-two employee and tend more towards some form of data processing, not chemical processing. After all, meth labs try to keep a low profile. I further suspect many have no in-home customer contact and those that do are infrequent and short duration. Excepting teachers and tutors.

On our little street of joy, we have three or four home-based businesses and at least as many who do remote work from a home office. Out of sixteen homes.

One involves some component of outside sales as well as physical product delivery and installation. Think "custom blinds". Pre-sale customer contact is at the customer site. Factory builds to spec and product is picked up at the distribution center, taken to the customer site and installed. Nothing much happens on our street.

It simply is not clear how many of these businesses require customer visits at the home based business office. I don't really know, but I would like to as I suspect this is much ado about nothing. Does disallowing customer visits really impact that many home-based businesses in Dunwoody?

And at the end of the day if you've got a whining complaining busybody neighbor that is offended that you get 3 UPS deliveries a week, well you've got a problem the city cannot and should not solve.