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Discuss...Home Occupations

SW MI Planner

The following article was in the Juergensen Report, a newsletter from a consulting firm in the Detroit area.

I don't know that I really agree with it? I agree that home occupations should be allowed (with restrictions), but it sounds like they think it should be free for all. Come on, the home occupations we have around here are car repair and meth labs. I really don't buy their seven reasons to allow home occupations.

Detroit’s Mistake in Excluding Home-Based Businesses

The Zoning Ordinance is the legal expression of a community’s Master Plan, and therefore absolutely essential for communities to imagine their future in the regulations contained in the Zoning Ordinance. So why is it that home based businesses are zoned out of communities, haven’t local zoning officials heard of “Ebay.” Come on, we spend millions of taxpayer dollars supporting massive infrastructure investments, tax breaks and abatements to encourage a few large manufacturers, when most of today’s entrepreneurs start at home, not in an industrial park.

After four years of hard work by numerous citizens and public officials, a handful of residents in a couple of Detroit’s historic districts appear to have effectively lobbied to discourage positive changes in Detroit’s new Zoning Ordinance that would have provided these economic opportunities while also creating regulations that protect neighborhoods.

Consider this tidbit from the history of computer giant Hewlett Packard, “Dave (Packard) and his wife Lucile move into the first floor flat of a house at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, California. Bill (Hewlett) rents the cottage behind the house, and Bill and Dave begin part-time work in the garage with $538 in working capital. The $538 consists of cash and a used Sears-Roebuck drill press.”

Had Dave and Bill lived in Detroit, the city would issued a cease and desist order as violation of the city’s Zoning Ordinance and we might still be using manual typewriters and America would have never learned the lyrics to My Girl, because Motown could not have grown up in the houses on West Grand Boulevard (see Motown article in this issue).

A healthy city is rich in activity, which includes a vibrant and diverse population that is active during all hours of the day. This means daytime as much as is does nightlife. Today, ideas are the currency of a 21st century Information Age economy. The new “creative” economy and the creative class, as proposed by author Richard Florida, not only includes artists, researchers and technology professionals, but also entrepreneurs that CREATE businesses and jobs.

The days of abundant high paying manufacturing jobs are over. Recent media attention on the country and Michigan’s loss of industrial jobs is duly noted and over the last several years, we have been told that the US economy was in a recession. As major corporations continue to "downsize" or "rightsize" a lot of people are out of work and desperately trying to find another job.

At the same time, according to a recent Gallup survey, seven out of ten new businesses are started at home, which means that the home is the launching pad for new products and businesses--the engine of the American economy. In 2001, firms with less than 10 people created over 12.3 million jobs and it is likely that the overwhelming majority of those were likely in home-based environs.

The Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, tell us that

• 9.3 million Americans spend at least one full work-day at home, and
• 21.5 million at least some portion of their work-week in their residence

Home workers are more likely to be female and the proportion of minority ownership of home-based businesses is growing at a more rapid rate then their white counterparts. Also, with more single heads of households and dual income families, neighborhoods are often emptied of most working adults during the day and home-based businesses provide activity and security for a neighborhood.

A significant factor effecting the decision to create a business is start-up costs and working at home allows the business owner to cut overhead and conserve resources earlier in business evolution.

Given all these factors wouldn’t it be a shame if people who might begin exploring the option of a home-based business would be discouraged when they find out that antiquated zoning ordinances limit their options in operating or growing a business from their home?

Throughout the country 24 million business tax returns were filed by operators of home based businesses. There are literally millions of businesses operated in the U.S. out of homes in violation of local zoning ordinances. If all zoning laws were strictly enforced, all of these businesses would be forced to shut down and the entire U.S. economy would be dealt a significant blow.

So despite the growing number of home businesses in the country, most neighborhoods remain unchanged. In order to effectively respond to this growing trend, we need to adopt a fair and effective ordinance that recognizes:

• People work from home whether the zoning permits it or not, and making it unlawful turns otherwise law-abiding citizens into violators.

• If people hide their home businesses, they're not marketing it as effectively as they could, and they're limiting what they earn, dampening the community economy.

• Home businesses that are allowed to be visible are more apt to obtain business licenses, which helps hard-pressed local governments balance their budgets.

• Home is an incubator for many businesses that grow out of the home and sometimes become major employers. What community wouldn't like to be the headquarters for the next Apple Computer or Ben & Jerry's?

• Home-based self-employment is an important safety net for Americans who have lost their jobs. The best route to pulling out of a bad economy is enabling people to support themselves.

In order for more people to have the opportunity to legally operate a business from their homes, it is necessary for us to move the zoning ordinances out of the industrial age and into the technology age. Knowledge about whom and what home-based businesses are along with some sensible guidelines for the new zoning ordinances would be helpful. Here are a few lists to help make the case for home-based businesses though you will have to stay tuned to next month for my suggestions.

Seven Reasons to Allow Home-Based Businesses to Operate

1. Makes neighborhoods safer for every one, including latchkey kids.

2. The comings and goings of strangers can be observed and suspicious activities reported to the authorities.

3. Less traffic on our highways during the "normal" rush hour.

4. Money earned is spent in the local neighborhood helping to boost local economies.

5. Keeps jobs in the local community.

6. Decreases unemployment.

7. Provides a wider volunteer base for our communities.


The problem with the author is that he doesn't consider the other 'heavy' home occupation uses, like engine repair, car body and paint work, welding, etc.

Lots of these blue-collar manufacturing types have these heavy industrial skills. If they open a home based business, it's more thank liketly to be car repair, lawnmower repair, welding....etc.. More than likely there is going to be mis-managed hazardous wastes on the site. More than likely there is the increased probability of volitile chemicals being used in these uses.

These are not things I want in a residential area.....especially in inner-city neighborhoods with high(er) densities and less seperation between houses, garages, etc.

Typewriting, answering phones, computer usage, internet based businesess, etc. do not require a H.O. permit here because there is no impact.

If deliveries or customers are involved, they require a permit.

Repo Man

The way our ordinance reads you could have a home-based office use but you couldn’t have a candy-making business or a craft-making operation. I think that is ridiculous, but there is no desire to change it. If there is no way to tell if a business is being operated from a home and no laws are being broken I think that home businesses are great for a community. I agree that things like auto repair and uses that could be considered manufacturing should not be allowed.

Like the article states, many home occupations turn into successful businesses. In the community where I work we have a very successful microbrewery that started as a home-based brewing operation. Undoubtedly there are many other businesses that started as home occupations.

Richmond Jake

You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!
Unfortunately, we have language in our ordinance that restricts home occupations significantly:

"(c) There shall be no commercial on-premises sales in connection with such home occupation nor shall there be any commercial or manufacturing uses specifically provided for in other parts of this Title;"

What we understand this to mean is, if you can find the use somewhere else in the County, then you can't conduct the home occupation.


I prefer to regulate home based business based primarily on performance standards and conditional use permits.

Of course, out here in "the sticks" where many communities still do not have zoning at all - the "good neighbor" approach seems to handle things fairly well.


Corn Burning Fool
Staff member
They also do not deal with the neighbors right to enjoy their property. If you allow everything what happens when the home occ. is something noxious.


Staff member
giff57 said:
They also do not deal with the neighbors right to enjoy their property. If you allow everything what happens when the home occ. is something noxious.

I agree with giff57, adding that there would be no way to regulate the days and hours of operation, so the "quiet enjoyment" expectation that most of us have would be seriously, and perhaps loudly, jeopardized.

We consider "customary" home occ as one that has no visual effect on the dwelling or property; that has little or no customer traffic; that is conducted exclusively by the tenant/owner without any additional employees; and that has no deliveries. We take the first to mean no signs.


I live next to one that is invasive and not permitted. I haven't done much in the way of complaining since other neighbors don't mind. My neighbor is a cash register repairman/restorer. Sounds low impact, but those historic old machines he works on need welding, grinding, sanding, painted, etc. Not low impact. Plus it seems that lately he has customer traffic stopping by which he didn't before. I think he has a part time either friend or employee helping, but I can't verify that one. The worst part is that lately his work has been occuring in the driveway instead of the garage/shop. :-#
SGB said:
I prefer to regulate home based business based primarily on performance standards and conditional use permits..

I agree - defining perfomance standards for dB, emissions, traffic and so on can have a large impact in regulating the type and manner of businesses that operate in a residential area while allowing for the flexibility for the "mom and pop" entrepreneurial operation to start up in the garage or basement. A good set of performance standards will weed out the autobody shop and heavy industrial chicken slaughterhouse - unless of course, these operations are so high-tech and refined that they can operate acceptably within the guidelines. In which case, isn't that okay? As for crystal meth labs - I don't think any amount of regulation is gonna help you out with preventing that.