Council seeks advice to solve home-business dilemma

The Hillsboro City Council continues the delicate task of working through an acceptable policy for dealing with home-based businesses that operate without permits.

Council members met with Eric Strauss, city planning and zoning consultant, at the March 7 city council meeting to discuss solutions.

The problem arose when the owner of a home-based business complained that the city was discriminating against his business by trying to shut it down while allowing others to continue.

The root of the problem actually goes back several years when the Hillsboro Community Planning and Development Commission wrote the policy.

Strauss said because the commission members couldn?t reach a decision, they left the regulations ?gray,? assuming businesses wouldn?t be a problem if they were not a nuisance.

He said the commission adopted a ?Don?t tell, don?t talk? policy, allowing any home occupation as long as it didn?t offend neighbors.

But the policy does state a permit is required for all home occupations.

Mayor Delores Dalke asked if the city has the attitude of ?Don?t ask, don?t tell,? what will happen if the city receives a complaint such as the one they did about discrimination.

?The city is not going to go out and be zoning cops,? Strauss said. ?As soon as the city knows about home occupations, they have to apply for a permit.?

He said the city has to officially find out about the business from a neighbor.

?I agree requiring a conditional-use permit for everyone is unreasonable,? Strauss said.

He said the city could make a list of required uses that are acceptable. All others would require a permit except for those that don?t belong in a residential neighborhood.

The city is concerned only with home-based businesses.

?There are certain businesses or home occupations in this community that are unsightly or nuisances, and those are the ones we are trying to deal with without throwing a net over everyone,? council member Mike Padgett said.

He said he wondered if the properties in question could be taken care of as ?nuisances.?

David Wheeler, city attorney, did not like the idea of classifying home occupations as nuisances because a nuisance has to have excess light, smoke or odor. Beyond that, the definition of ?nuisance? gets fuzzy.

?When you say ?nuisance,? I cringe because I don?t know what one is,? Wheeler said. ?I think I know one when I see one, but it?s hard to put down on paper.?

Strauss defined a home occupation as a service performed in a residential area.

He said retail sales were not considered a home occupation and would require rezoning. Manufacturing also is not allowed in residential zones.

Padgett said the council would have to be careful with the language because arts and crafts makers could be considered manufacturing, and that is not the city?s intent.

Dalke said the city is trying to crack down on ?the things that are done in residential neighborhoods that don?t belong there.?

Another issue is the definition of ?home occupancy.? According to existing guidelines, as soon as a person adds an off-site employee, the business is no longer a home occupation.

This would affect businesses such as day-care providers who require additional help because of the number of children they care for.

Dalke said day-care providers are greatly needed in Hillsboro and would not want them to have to close their doors.

Current policy does allow for day care under some circumstances. Also, the operator could apply to rezone the property.

The policy is supposed to focus on home uses, not home users.

?We don?t want it to be a personality thing,? Dalke said. ?We want it to be, ?These are the rules.??

The council did agree some policy changes are needed.

Strauss agreed, but he said the commission would need direction on what changes the council wants.

To help provide guidance, the council will hold a work session with the commission.

?The thing that would be most helpful at this stage is for you to tell us what is wrong,? Strauss said.

Because the Internet is enabling more people to work out of their home, Dalke believes the number of home occupations will only increase in the future.

John McMinn, who operates a bicycle sales and repair business out of his garage, voiced his concerns at the meeting.

?One thing we need to remember is this is Hillsboro and not Wichita, because Hillsboro works together,? McMinn said.

He said if a business meets a need, and is even requested, it is not right for the city to then shut it down.

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