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Thread: Internet sales in residential districts vs "commercial sales" in same

  1. #1
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    Internet sales in residential districts vs "commercial sales" in same

    Hi all!

    A quick search of the forums didn't show a previous discussion on this topic so I'm wondering about the prohibition of "internet sales" vs standard commercial sales within residential zoning districts.

    Strictly speaking, our zoning codes do NOT allow for the "commercial sale" of good in any residential districts. However, today I am working on a Home Occupation Special Use Permit request for an at-home photography studio. The applicant has stated that all "sales" will be via the internet. That is, once the studio session is complete, the customer can view, order and pay for all photos from the comfort of their own home. No physical exchange of cash will take place and photos will be mailed to the customer so *technically* no "sale" is taking place on the subject tract whatsoever.

    Our ordinances don't distinguish b/t internet sales and "standard" commercial sales (although perhaps they should).

    So, two questions:

    1) For *this* case, I believe that we should consider what *causes* the prohibition of commercial sale of goods in residential zoning districts. In my mind, its solely "traffic generation". And since internet sales eliminate automobile traffic, we've eliminated the primary "negative externality." Can anyone think of other reasons to prohibit this type of home occupation so long as all sales are via the internet?

    2) Anyone familiar with municipalities which have effectively addressed this same issue in their zoning codes? I'd sure like to hear how this has been dealt with elsewhere.

    Thanks in advance for your input!

  2. #2
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    You're on the right track viewing the sales activities in terms of land use impacts - who cares where/how money the money gets exchanged. If it's a studio, though, doesn't that mean there will be customers parking in either the driveway or streets while they are doing the 'shoot'? That is a potential negative. Most in-home studios I've encountered have tended to generate low volumes of customer traffic....BUT I ran into a case once where the township issued a home occupation permit for a home studio and it ended up becoming rather successful. During early June we ended up getting citizen complaints about customer parking on the street thanks to all the wedding and graduation photos. It became an enforcement problem because the permit had no conditions governing how many customers they could have.

    I have mixed feelings about photo studios as home occupations because on the one hand, like I said, they tend not to generate much business/traffic, but on the other, it's hardly fair to the photography studios in commercial zones that are essentially paying for all the site improvements/infrastructure. Running the studio out of one's home eliminates a lot of overhead. You could consider placing limits on how many customers a home studio could have on-site over a given period of time, but that's also problematic from an enforcement perspective.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

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    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    You might be interested in this report from the Small Business Administration:

    Home-Based Business and Government Regulation

    Appendicies

    While ths report is really an overview of home-based businesses, it has a decent section on zoning regulations. It's also interesting to note what kinds of businesses tend to be home-based.

    One of the issues I have heard about in home-based Internet businesses is that of the UPS/FedEx truck coming to the house on a daily basis. Whether that would apply in this instance, I don't know, but if he/she is going to process photographs onsite there may be deliveries of paper and chemicals and lots of shipments of finished photographs.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    The USPS is by every weekday. and I'd bet that the FedEx and/or UPS truck is on the street past the house almost every day. Limit parking to no more than ___ vehicles at any one time on the property and no on street parking. That is easier to enforce.

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    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    The only thing would be if the item they are selling on the web affects the land use or other regulations. We don't allow weapon or ammunition sales in home occupations. IMO it doesn't matter much because weapons are just another product, but my city is a little uptight since one got by before codes were in place.

  6. #6
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    Thanks to everyone who's responded. Glad to hear from my "virtual planning peers" I was on the right track regarding traffic generation!

    And JimPlans, thanks for that link! I cited that report in my report to the ZBA


    Still curious whether there is a permanent solution to allow for internet sales, but maybe its best to have these types of home occupations go through the SUP process anyway in order to state for the record that sales will be via the internet.

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