Monday, October 28, 2013

Zoning: Truth and Consequences

What did we learn from the Zoning rewrite?

First, some basics:

1)  The zoning code consultants, who actually did the writing, plus the sounding board and the Community Development staff approached all of the questions and edits with the same standard.  What is occurring in the community?  What does it take to engage in diverse activities without neighbors stepping on each other toes?  In short, we realized that good fences make good neighbors and we built a lot of fences.

2)  Leading up to the final vote, there was a lot of sabre-rattling about home occupations, backyard farming, bicycles, etc as "hot button" issues.  None of these are really "hot buttons" in the big picture.  They only become "hot buttons" when someone is trying to drum up opposition to them.  These topics did not come up even once during any candidate forum, or letters to any newspaper.  The only time these niche issues become important is when taken in the larger context of deciding what is "Dunwoody's residential nature".  Residential living means different things to different people, even within a single neighborhood.  So during this election, promises by anyone to "preserve Dunwoody's character" ring hollow and insincere.  There is no one "residential character".  All of the alleged "hot button" issues listed above are already alive and well in our city and are already accepted to one degree or another by the populace.

3)  The glimmer of good news is that home teachers and tutors will no longer have to endure an excessive process that invites 46,000 people to weigh in on the subject of conversation in a home between the homeowner and their visitors.  Despite the painstaking detailed research performed by the consultants and sounding board, the modernized process for licensing and tracking home business activity was gutted by City Council, even after unanimous approval by the homeowner-staffed Community Council and Planning Commission.  So while there is still some discrimination against some home businesses based on their type of enterprise, home tutors will be exempt and our city's government can avoid another embarrassing debacle that brought this debate to the forefront.

Teachers and students rejoice!  You are no longer shackled by an unfair approval process and you are free to welcome your students and your families as you see fit.  Please be good stewards to your neighborhood and a good example to the community of how home businesses can be an asset to the community when managed by good neighbors.

Unfortunately, this resolution and how it came about brings out more questions than answers about some of our council members, their decision making, their priorities, and even their integrity.

The section of Chapter 27 regulating home businesses that some council members objected to had been passed unanimously by both Community Council and Planning Commission without a single edit.  From the original writing process all the way through the first two levels of voting, there had been no objections.  By the time City Council had its turn to vote:  there were four naysayers out to gut this section:  Denny Shortal, Adrian Bonser, John Heneghan, and Lynn Deutsch.  A look at the makeup of these four council members' districts and past activities make their objections counter-intuitive.

1)  Denny Shortal:  while he is on record as opposing any activity that he does not endorse for his front yard, Denny has several dozen licensed home based businesses in District 1, many of whom see employees, customers, or both on a regular basis.  He did not cite any of these as reasons for eliminating this chapter.  Either Denny is oblivious to this activity in his district (making it by definition, a non-nuisance), he believes these citizens should be merely ignored, or he is very aware of them and doesn't care.

2)  Adrian Bonser has spoken out against any changes in the process to legally permit customers in a home.  However she has been a customer in *my* home on several occasions, and at no time did she ever voice a concern that I had not submitted to a SLUP process.  She is not seeking re-election, so that's enough said.

3)  John Heneghan opposes any changes to home business regulations only when sitting in a city council chair.  His blog is a different story.  In March of this year, he openly promoted a garage sale hosted by the owner of Emily G's that included discontinued stock.  (The products were converted to "personal property" via some legal slicing and dicing.)

Not one word about SLUPs, "commercial activity", or "preserving neighborhood character" anywhere in this blog post.   Other home business owners in District 3 think John considers them a friend, and thus have not sought a SLUP for their customer contact either.

4)  Lynn Deutsch only recently started openly opposing any changes to home business regulations.  Which is ironic since she actually attended the garage sale that John promoted.  Again, Lynn was not concerned about whether the neighbors were notified that a business with a lot of administration going on in the home had its application straight, nor was she concerned whether the neighbors approved of the business or the special-occasion garage sale.  She was  concerned that no one take her picture.

In addition, during the special called meeting of September 17 where council discussed and debated  this and other aspects of the proposed Zoning code, Lynn requested that farmers' markets be approved in the zoning code for churches, etc.  (Listen for it at the 1:55:14 mark) Most houses of worship in Dunwoody are in residentially-zoned areas.  That means Councilwoman Deutsch, right after condemning commercial activity in a residential neighborhood for home based occupations based on the "inherent nuisance" theory, turned right around and endorsed commercial activity in a residential neighborhood in the same meeting.  At least John let a few weeks go by before contradicting himself.

This means that of the four council members looking to eliminate this chapter as written, three of them personally endorse and patronize home based businesses that make use of employees and customer contact without any additional regulations - when it meets their needs or is otherwise convenient for them.

But wait - there's more.....

(Part two in progress.)

1 comment:

Max said...

Yes, but is it really the BIG issue?

I love the progressive nature that small, home-based businesses offer, ultimately they can become my newest commercial real estate clients.

For me, it comes down to allowing the use by right, as opposed to by permission.

I see the code as something that can change as the community changes. I believe over 10-20 years more people will convert a portion of their home into their 'means of production.'

Right now, everything you stated about 'hot button' issue, drives the discussion.