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Zoning for Home Occupations

By | July 03, 2012

The numbers are in, the technology is here, the benefits are clear--and the move is on. Business persons are taking up a new eco-sensitive way of doing business: They're staying home!

At an Earth Day fair in Evergreen, Colo., we had a sign above our booth that proudly stated the contribution to Mother Earth: "No commute, no pollute." When you add other social benefits, such as added neighborhood security, and better family and community cohesiveness, you have a compelling reason to take a new look at zoning regulations that often restrict such resourcefulness.

What we propose is the simple language of reason. It doesn't have to be dripping with legalese. Those setting up a home-based business need to understand the rules, and those that live next door need to know they are protected. It's that simple.

Wording is the key to zoning regulations that work in everyone's best interest. I suggest beginning with clear, simple definitions. For example:

Home Occupation

Any occupation or business use, full- or part-time, conducted within a dwelling or an accessory structure, or both, by a resident of the property.

We need to start somewhere. Defining what we mean by a home occupation is very important. This wording covers those communities that allow 'accessory structures' on residential property. If there is no such authority in your area, take out mention of accessory buildings.

I recommend taking out the common zoning phrase 'and is clearly incidental to the residential use' as it weakens the whole ordinance by prefacing it with an indefinable and unenforceable definition.

Concept of Ordinance

This ordinance establishes the criteria for home occupations based on the impact of the business on the integrity and character of the neighborhood.

That's fancy wording for quality of life and value of property in our backyards. That's all we're talking about.

Ordinance Enforcement

This ordinance provides the definitions of compliance and is meant to be used for reactive enforcement. It is the responsibility of surrounding homeowners to bring offenders to the attention of the planning and zoning department or homeowners association for determination and enforcement.

The key word to understand there is "reactive." No zoning department or homeowners association is going to go around inspecting homes for compliance. The only time enforcement becomes an issue is if someone complains.

General Home Occupation Standards

All home occupations shall comply with the following:

A. Appearance. There shall be no exterior evidence that a building is being used for any purpose other than a dwelling or an accessory structure.

In other words, if you drive by, there is no indication that anything other than residential activity is taking place. No neon signs; no unusual paint jobs; no golden arches. This protects the visual quality of life in the neighborhood.

B. Activity. The home occupation shall not cause any odor, dust, smoke, vibration, noise, heat glare or electromagnetic interference, which can be detected at, or beyond, the property line.

You could really stop here and have a pretty sound ordinance. But many find merit in writing down a few more specifics. For example:

C. Parking. Off-street parking will be provided by the homeowner, where necessary, to handle all vehicle visits authorized under specific traffic classifications. If there is a question whether off-street parking is necessary, the zoning administrator shall make the determination.

If parking is needed, it is the full responsibility of the business to provide such parking off public right of ways, even out of sight, if necessary.

D. Storage. There will be no outdoor storage of equipment, material or stock. There will be no storage on the premises of explosives or highly flammable or extremely hazardous materials as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

E. Operator. The business must be conducted by a full-time resident of the property.

The concern here is that if you are not a full-time resident, you may not be attuned to the community that surrounds you.

F. Square Footage Usage. There is no limit to the amount of square footage that can be used within the residential structure for business activity.

It is very common for communities to restrict floor space for business use in the home, but I have to ask why. How much space you allocate to business and how much to living does not affect the quality of life of your neighbor, plus it is next to impossible to enforce. If you abide by A and B, who will ever know or care?

G. Number of Occupations. More than one home occupation may be conducted on the premises; however the combined business-related impact of all home occupations shall be considered when evaluating the terms of this ordinance.

Again, I have to ask why communities would feel the need to restrict the number of businesses one can conduct in his or her home. If you don't disturb the quality of life in your neighborhood, it's unimportant. The key word in this clause is 'combined.' If all the noise, vibration, etc. of the combined businesses does not disturb neighbors, that's what counts.

H. Types of Residential Structures. Home occupations are permitted in all types of residential structures. If an occupation is located in a townhouse, condominium, multiplex or apartment dwelling, the zoning administrator may restrict business visitor parking to specific hours.

Where you live, whether an apartment or a private mansion, should not affect whether you can work from home. In the second part of this two-part look at zoning ordinances, I'll take a look at one final issue that needs to be addressed in these ordinances: neighborhood traffic.

[Steve Lang is the founder of the Mount Evans Home Based Business Association in Evergreen, Colo. Steve presently operates a no-traffic, man- and earth-friendly, home-based business and can be reached at elkbugle@aol.com.]

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