City leaders consider registering home occupations

To help the city gain some control of home-based occupations, the Hillsboro Planning Commission may recommended that all residents who operate them register their enterprises for a nominal fee?or no fee at all.

Commission members met with Eric Strauss, planning and zoning consultant, and representatives from the city council Thursday to begin to work through the thorny issue of encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors by residents while protecting the integrity of residential neighborhoods.

The issue emerged a few months ago when a resident registered a complaint about one such enterprise that was operating without the conditional-use permit currently required by city ordinance.

In that instance, the complaint was about unsightly storage of materials. But other issues include the presence of semi-trucks unloading on residential streets and late-night noise.

When the city council began to address the situation, they realized that at least 50 home-based business operate in the city without the appropriate permit, making it difficult to address a single complaint without being charged with discrimination.

Mayor Delores Dalke said only one or two residents have bothered to apply for the required conditional-use permit.

?I think the ones we have had the complaints about are the people who don?t actually keep the occupation within their home,? Dalke said. ?It has spilled out into their backyard and into the alley. They?ve added extra buildings in their backyard, hired people to work for them?which aren?t exactly home occupations. But according to our ordinance, we don?t define what a home occupation is.?

Requiring every home occupation to register would give the city a record of most such businesses. The initial fee would be negligible, but violators, once discovered, could face a stiffer fee of $100 or more.

?We?re not trying to put anybody out of business,? said Council Member Clariece Schroeder. ?It?s the containment of it that we?re concerned about.?

Participants from the two bodies spent most of an hour trying to define what kinds of businesses are acceptable and what are not.

Strauss said it is almost impossible to codify every situation because so many variables are at work.

?Every question we answer raises more questions,? he said.

Strauss said a key part of a basic definition would be to identify enterprises that are ?revenue producing? as opposed to activities that are done as hobbies or for charity.

Another key component, participants seemed to agree, would be that once home-based businesses add employees from outside the home, they would be require to file for a conditional-use permit or move their business downtown.

Beyond those general parameters, participants agreed it would not be prudent to try to list every kind of business that would be acceptable or unacceptable. Instead, they agreed to identify a half dozen or so businesses that would always be acceptable and a half dozen that would never be allowed.

The two bodies agreed they want to avoid ?a long list of laws with no one to enforce them,? as Council Member Wendell Dirks noted. ?Let?s keep it simple.?

This meeting was preliminary. Strauss will take the input generated by the discussion and ?propose language? for a new ordinance.

Once the planning commission is satisfied with that language, they will recommend the ordinance to the council for approval.

In their only other agenda item, the planning commission approved a zoning change for property owned by Alan and Sharon Boese, Lehigh, at 316 N. Cedar.

According to the application, the Boeses want to establish a greenhouse at that location.

Because the business will involve retail sales, they requested a change in zoning from ?RM Medium Density Residential? to ?LI Light Industrial.?

After recessing for a brief public hearing on the issue, then hearing no response from the public, members reconvened and agreed to the change.

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