Starting a home occupation can be quick and easy through minimized regulation

A community can make starting a home occupation easy to do by minimizing regulation. Changing zoning to allow home occupations to automatically be part of a dwelling can help economic development.

One cannot even tell there are two home occupations taking place in this house.
One cannot even tell there are two home occupations taking place in this house.

It may be time to consider allowing home occupations to occur without zoning permit or approvals. Especially in an era of Michigan’s history when fostering entrepreneurial spirit and new business start-ups can be seen as more important. It is one of those things a community could do to improve zoning to accommodate the changing needs of the new economy.

There are also concerns that many home occupations are already occurring which never received a zoning permit to begin with. It is not a large stretch to suspect there are existing home occupations in any given local government whose existence is unknown.

If so, then why not amend the zoning ordinance to say a home occupation that occurs within the home is automatically considered a part of a dwelling and can happen without permit?

To do so, consider dividing the activity by the different levels of impact within a neighborhood. First would be the “home occupation”. This would be defined as an enterprise, which is something more than a hobby but is done as an accessory use to the dwelling. Regulations would include:

  • No external evidence of the activity other than a sign.
  • Has to take place where the enterprise owner lives.
  • The activity is performed within the living quarters of the dwelling (not the garage or accessory buildings).
  • Use of hazardous materials (including waste) is below a specified threshold.
  • There would be a limited number of employees allowed or none at all.

The main standard, no external evidence of the activity, should result in minimal or no impacts on the neighborhood. It would be easy for someone who does web page design, computer coding, tax preparation services, CPA, and many more professions to get a start with a new business in this way. When the business outgrows the space in the dwelling, it would then have to move to a more traditional commercial space. This is a good thing, as the community now has a new business along with new jobs. 

In addition to home occupation, the zoning ordinance might also have “home business” or some similar name. This is defined as an enterprise that is more intense than a home occupation and might need space in accessory buildings or a garage. Regulations would include:

  • Activities must take place inside an existing building.
  • It has to take place where the enterprise owner lives.
  • Use of hazardous materials (including waste) is below a specified threshold, but maybe more than for a home occupation.
  • There would be a limit of number of employees and parking requirements.  
  • It might be listed permitted use in certain zoning districts.

Some communities might also have a “cottage industry” or some similar name. This would be defined as an enterprise that is more intense than a home business and may involve construction of a new building or activity taking place outside. Regulations would include:

  • It has to take place where the enterprise owner lives.
  • Use of hazardous materials (including waste) and number of employees are below a specified threshold, but maybe more than for a home business. 
  • There would be parking requirements and approval would be through special use permit in certain zoning districts, for example rural residential settings.

The point is to create different categories based on neighborhood impact, instead of handling each of these all the same way. This would make it very easy for something with little or no impact, such as home occupation, to take place automatically in any dwelling.

This is just one of many ways local governments can modify their zoning to for economic development and accommodate the new economy. It also addresses one of the common problems often observed in local zoning.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county. Contact your local land use educator for more information.

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