In the economy’s weakened state more and more interest is being generated about promoting home based business. Historically, people were nervous about promoting home based businesses because customers traffic and parking were viewed as incompatible with the peace and quiet of neighborhoods. In the new era where the internet meets entrepreneurism it’s possible to operate a successful global business from your own home with the only traffic being electronic so we want to revisit our Zoning Code to make sure we’ve got a contemporary snapshot of home based businesses.
Below please find the agenda and staff report for the next joint meeting of the Planning Commission, City Council, Board of Zoning Appeals, and Environmental Commission. This meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 7:00 PM and will be held again in City Council Chambers.
At the next meeting, we will be discussing Home Occupations. While this topic does not carry the same weight as rooming and boarding houses, it does have some interesting issues attached to it. In more recent times, and with the changes in work requirements and overhead costs which can potentially inhibit small business development, more people are working from their homes. As you know, the intent of the zoning code with regard to home occupations is to keep them minimal and as least intrusive to a neighborhood as possible. One of the basic questions in dealing with these uses is where they cross the line and how to define with some detail the line.
I hope to see you all at next week’s meeting. We will start at 7 PM since there is no regular business for the Planning Commission to consider.
Gary Locke, Community Development Director
JOINT MEETING OF KENT CITY PLANNING COMMISSION
BOARD OF ZONING APPEALS, ENVIRONMENTAL COMMISSION
AND KENT CITY COUNCIL
APRIL 21, 2009
KENT CITY HALL
325 S. DEPEYSTER STREET
A G E N D A
I. CALL TO ORDER
II. ROLL CALL
III. CORRESPONDENCE IV. OLD BUSINESS V. NEW BUSINESS
A. Zoning Code Update – Session #5, Part 1: Home Occupations
VI. OTHER BUSINESS X. ADJOURNMENT
SESSION #5 – Part 1
The purpose of this review is to evaluate the manner in which home occupations are regulated by the zoning code as well as types of functions that are permitted to operate under those regulations.
There are a handful of uses regulated by zoning codes that tend to create a lot of “gray” area in regard to regulation and enforcement. In the case of home occupations, the gray area comes from a use which falls between a traditional residential use and a commercial use. Mainly an issue in residentially zoned areas of the City, the question with home occupations becomes the scope of the use and its potential negative impact on a neighborhood. The difficulty in regulating these uses is exacerbated even further in that no two home occupations can be treated exactly the same, thus making it difficult to create “boiler-plated” standards for these uses. Over the years we have seen home occupation proposals come and go as a result of traffic concerns, parking problems and even neighbor vs neighbor disputes.
Simply put, a home occupation is a minor and secondary (accessory) use of a structure for business use, where the primary use of the structure is residential and where the operator of the use lives at the property. The use is to be incidental in regard to the amount of floor area that it occupies and should not generate an unreasonable flow of traffic in and out of the property or through the neighborhood.
Most zoning codes have traditionally treated home occupations in a suspect manner insofar as they have been viewed as potentially detrimental to residential areas. As time has evolved and especially in the past 20 years, home occupations have become more prevalent as a result of more liberal employer policies as well as the number of people attempting to start or operate a small business where they cannot afford the typical expenses and overhead of a traditional office setting. Many tend to be office type uses but there are some that are retail or involve some type of repair services, where customers may or may not come to the property. As the desire to conduct these types of operations has increased and evolved, it is appropriate to consider whether additional accommodations or restrictions are needed as part of the zoning code to deal with them.
Bicentennial Plan Discussion:
Two points in the overall goals articulated in the Bicentennial Plan appear to be on-point with regard to a discussion of home occupations. One of the goals is to “Protect neighborhoods”, while a second states that the City should, “Encourage and promote locally owned small businesses”. While neither goal specifically mentions home occupations, both the motivation to allow them and control them can be derived from the statements. It should be noted that much of the conversation in the Bicentennial Plan related to local business seems more focused on encouraging that business in the downtown and other traditionally commercial areas rather than in the residential neighborhoods. As such, the Bicentennial Plan is relatively silent about home occupations, per se.
Session #5-1 – Home Occupations
UDC Draft Discussion
Discussions concerning the development of a draft Unified Development Code did in the past include discussions about the treatment of home occupations. There were not many changes to the current regulations suggested during the discussion other than to state that retail and some other specific uses were not permitted as home occupations and to attempt to set some specific standards for traffic and parking restrictions. The draft did not contemplate allowing such operations in accessory buildings.
Potential Changes / Commentary
The current zoning code breaks home occupations down into two separate categories: 1) home occupations, and 2) limited home businesses. The primary difference between the two is that a limited home business for the most part is an “internal” type operation without outsiders coming to work or do business at the location. More specifically, it is operated by the occupant of the house, does not generate traffic or attention to itself, and may not be known to others. These are permitted anywhere in the City in a residential home and are reviewed and approved by the Community Development Department. A home occupation is a more involved operation which may cause clients, customers or no more than one outside employee to the property. These operations may attract traffic or parking issues and may attract attention to the fact that there is a business operation at the property. The home occupation is a conditionally permitted use (requires Planning Commission review and approval) and is allowed as such primarily in the residential zoning districts (including the mixed use residential and commercial districts). Staff is of the opinion that the current regulatory structure that is in place is generally good, but may deserve some evaluation in the following areas:
a) Extent of Use in Home: The current restriction limits a home occupation to occupy not more than 25% of the total floor area of the home. This percentage seems a little high to us and should possibly be reduced to 20%. The primary issue is making sure that the use is clearly incidental to the residential use. In contrast, an argument could also be made that the percentage should be more liberal so as to encourage home-based businesses. One potential consideration in regard to the latter is that with most home occupations, different or additional building code compliance issues are not applicable. Increasing the size of the operation could potentially bring additional building code requirements into play. Staff would recommend a more conservative number rather than a more liberal number since it is likely to provide more protection for the surrounding neighborhood.
b) Use of Accessory Buildings / Additions: There are some interesting arguments to be made here in regard to whether out-buildings (garages, sheds, etc) should be permitted to be used in conjunction with a home occupation. The current zoning prohibits such operations and in many cases, the average garage or out-building would need to be updated with water, sewer or different building code requirements.
Session #5-1 – Home Occupations
Historically, this type of situation involved garages or out-buildings being used for auto repair purposes, workshops where items to be sold on or off premises were being produced and in some cases for storage. The question associated with this type situation comes down to whether the use of a separate structure can be considered accessory and secondary to the primary (residential) use of the property. While in most cases operating a business from an accessory building is potentially problematic and not necessarily consistent with the intent of the zoning code to protect residential properties from such operations, there may be times when such an operation is reasonable and appropriate. As such, staff believes that the Planning Commission should be enabled to consider and approve such operations where appropriate and where such uses are not offensive to the surrounding neighborhood, rather than to just prohibit such operations outright.
c) Hours of Operation: There currently is nothing in the zoning code that regulates or restricts the hours of operation relevant to a home occupation in a home. Staff is of the opinion that specific limits should be placed on such operations and would offer that such uses should only be permitted to operate between 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM Monday through Saturday. Staff would not be opposed to even more restrictive days and hours.
d) Traffic Generation: Traffic generated by a home occupation is a function of both the number of people coming to the home to do business as well as the number of people working at the operation. Currently, the zoning code only allows one other person (not residing at the home) to be employed as part of the home occupation. Staff does not see this number as being unreasonable. In addition to the additional employee, different home occupations generate different numbers of customers. Those operations requiring specific appointments (hair salons, massage-therapists, etc.) can better manage their traffic loads better than one that does not work on the basis of appointments. Parking availability is also an issue and it is staff’s opinion that home occupations should provide adequate parking on-site rather than having to use on-street parking. To this end, it may be appropriate to restrict home occupations to appointment based businesses and not allow general walk-in type traffic. It should be remembered that businesses operated out of residential structures are not always treated as home occupations if they are located in commercial zoning districts. However, in the latter situations, those operations have to meet commercial building code requirements and parking requirements for business uses whereas the zoning and building codes treat home occupations more leniently.
In closing, it is important to keep in perspective that home occupations are limited uses, incidental to the primary use of the property as a residence. Zoning regulations need to provide adequate protection for residential areas while still allowing reasonable uses of the home.