Remember in grade school when one kid got in trouble, the whole class got punished? Well, there's a movement in Kirkland that if not closely watched could send all home-based businesses to the principal's office despite Kirkland City Council's best intentions.
Discussions are preliminary, but the city planning commission and city council are initiating a look at ordinances governing home-based businesses. As a result of a number of complaints against a few home-based businesses, recommendations have emerged to find ways to improve oversight of the more then 1,200 such operations in the city.
Many members of the city council have recognized that regulations already exist that appear to address the complaints that were brought up: excessive parking, noise, operations at odd hours and, in one instance, the fact that no one is using the home as a home at night. Although a large majority of us may agree that enforcement is the answer, it is easier, and sometimes cheaper for some, to make regulations stricter.
This scenario is not unique to Kirkland. Across the country, other home-based businesses are running into the same challenges. In New Jersey, the Home Based Business Council (HBBC), a home-based business advocacy group that focuses on zoning issues, consulted with one town's officials about its existing zoning laws. HBBC found that local officials all were unable to answer simple questions about their own ordinances. HBBC representatives pointed out that if city officials couldn't answer them, it was unreasonable to expect home-based business owners to do so.
According to Charles Wunder, a municipal planner and home-based entrepreneur, it's neither malice nor revenue that fuels the growing conflict about home-based business zoning. "Most elected or appointed officials have no experience as home-based business owners," says Wunder. He recommends that communities eliminate lists of "acceptable" and "non-acceptable" businesses, and adopt performance standards that are easy to understand, encourage business growth, and set measurable and objective levels for noise, visits, traffic, etc.
Besides helping to bring more revenue into the city, home-based businesses help to reduce traffic jams, keep people off government assistance and exemplify the American entrepreneurial dream.
Kirkland is a great place to live and work. In some cases, it's a great place to do both in the same spot. Some of the most successful businesses in the country started in a garage or basement. In the case of Google, two Stanford University students started it in their dorm room. Let's provide the positive support that allows hard-working mortgage holders to help pay their bills. Such support might even inspire pursuit of a business idea that could move outside the home, employing Kirkland residents and generating even more revenue for the city.
We all need to work with the city to make sure that well behaving businesses are kept out of the principal's office and that our focus remains on those who are causing the trouble.
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