Home Occupation Zoning - Getting Neighborhood Support

by ao
(Florida, USA)

Visitor Question: I am interested in amending the Residential Zoning code of our village to allow home-based businesses.

I have a personal feeling that it is the right thing to do, in terms of "personal liberty", but I am having trouble articulating an argument that will convince the rest of the town or the council that it will be good for the entire village.

Is there somewhere to find other cities who have amended their Single Family Residential Zoning to allow actual businesses? We don't have a sales tax, so what are the economic benefits? The community benefits? The environmental benefits?

Editors' Reply:

The practice of zoning grew out of efforts to maintain property values and to make negative spillover effects from one neighbor to another illegal.

As zoning was becoming known in the U.S. in the early 1920's, the segregation of commercial land uses from residential ones grew from a desire to preserve the positive homey atmosphere that gives confers residential neighborhood character.

The prohibition of home occupations in some zoning ordinances is based on a good intention of maintaining property values and keeping conflict among neighbors to a minimum.

Many cities that do permit home occupations limit them to more professional types of classifications--music teaching, secondary offices of attorneys and accountants, and so forth.

The fear has been that home-based businesses would be small-scale manufacturers generating noise, odors, and delivery trucks. Or that the businesses would ultimately become successful enough to have customers or even employees coming and going at all hours of the day and evening.

However, today, as opposed to 1926 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared zoning to be legal, almost every home has at least one computer and some have networks of four computers.

Since many businesses are virtual (that is, they take place almost entirely by computer), it is natural that prohibitions against home business zoning are under pressure.

To answer some of your questions:

1. Regarding economic impacts, your strongest arguments are that unemployed or underemployed members of your community may find productive work in the world of work-by-computer, and thus be able to spend money in local stores that in turn will maintain their properties better as they become more prosperous.

Don't make the property tax argument, because many voices will advance the traditional argument that home businesses shouldn't be allowed because a poorly run home-based business would drag down property values on the block.

2. The community benefits of home occupations may include the family benefits of having at least one parent at home with children most of the time.

In addition to simply being able to be with the children, that parent then becomes another pair of "eyes on the street" watching out for suspicious criminal activity, vandalism, dogs on the loose, and other items requiring community attention.

Of course if the home worker isn't a parent, the same "eyes on the street" benefits apply.

3. The community benefits blend into the environmental benefits as well. One would be cleaner air, since the person working at home probably will be driving less overall.

Less driving also equals energy savings and less carbon emission, which should be of interest in a low sea level place such as Florida. Offices at home help limit sprawl and allow more of your beautiful native landscape to be preserved.

As to examples from other places, many cities, towns, and villages now post their zoning ordinances online, so a few well-considered Internet searches will yield a multiple of examples.

When you're making your argument, choose the examples that are close to home and similar in character and income level to your home community.

As you can tell from our page on home business zoning, we hope, we're certainly in favor of many home occupations.

You can argue that increasingly people are actually working from home, most people have computers--now a primary tool of many kinds of work--at home anyway, and that any negative neighborhood effects of working at home (such as signs, building of extra-large garages, or extra traffic from employees or customers) can be regulated.

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