S. S. Trudeau

Home Occupation Ordinance: Isn't this a job for an HOA?

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In these "work from home" times, the City of Ann Arbor is planning to update its "home occupations" (as in work you do from home for money) ordinance . The old ordinance (page 73) is a little dusty, with a shout out to millinery as an example occupation.

When the Planning Commission tackled this their first draft was pretty bad! Bruce Fields wrote about the early version which drew vocal criticism from the local maker and music communities. Thankfully, the process worked and many of the problematic features of the early draft were removed before this went to Council.

I still think the current draft is overly restrictive. In many cases it holds people engaging in activities at home for the purposes of making money to a much higher standard than people engaging in those same activities at home for any other reason. Below is the letter I sent to City Council about it highlighting my concerns (which could use some edits but it gets to the gist).

You can find Council's contact information here or simply email CityCouncil@a2gov.org to reach all of Council and the Mayor.

Hi City Council & Mayor,

The draft for the much-needed Home Ordinance update on next week's agenda is much improved after some effective community pushback on the Planning Commission's earlier efforts, especially from local Maker and music community. I appreciate that this update sticks to a set of standards and doesn't attempt to list certain specific banned occupations regardless of whether they'd meet the same standards as others.

I find some of the limits in the new draft are overly restrictive, attempting to regulate things to a higher standard what we already regulate in our nuisance ordinances, where the only distinction is whether the person is engaging in an activity for free or for an income. It isn't clear to me why one form of activity should be held to a higher standard than another, other than an educated, middle-class sense of propriety about what is "supposed" to be a hobby and what is "supposed" to be an income-generating activity. That seems more like a job for an HOA than a City ordinance.

Many of the basic conditions laid out in the new sections 2 and 3 are fine and establish the use as accessory/incidental on a residential property (eg one employee, 25% floor area, safety requirements, etc). These are reasonable as we don't want unrestricted use of entire residential properties as manufacturing or commercial zones and belong at the heart of this ordinance.

The items I take some issue with:

b. The use shall be conducted entirely within the interior of a Building, including all storage of goods, materials, and equipment.

I appreciate the spirit of this as I think it is reasonable that residential neighborhoods not turn into outdoor storage facilities but this would restrict activities like an outdoor yoga class or a bicycle mechanic who sets up a bike stand on a driveway, which personally I think would be perfectly reasonable and acceptable activities in any residential neighborhood.

e. A maximum of 24 client visits per day, and a maximum of four clients at a time, are permitted to visit a Dwelling Unit or an Accessory Building with a Home Occupation. Hours for visits shall be between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.

The maximum client count is reasonable to mitigate real disruptions of large numbers of people coming and going. However, we don't otherwise restrict when people can have guests at their homes, why would business clients be any different? Scenarios I can easily imagine a small home studio operator that mixes and masters recordings having clients over after 8pm to listen to a mix, and that shouldn't be the kind of thing we'd want to ban, especially given the 4 people at a time limit. I also think the 4 person limit, especially during daytime hours, seems excessively low (see previous outdoor yoga class example).

f. No truck or van with a gross vehicle weight greater than 10,000 pounds shall be parked on the site or in front of the site on a regular basis.

This seems arbitrary to me. What possible nuisance is presented by a person storing a vehicle they use for their livelihood on their own property? Some kinds of occupations require large vehicles which is why we can't ban them outright (hence the "regular basis clause") but if they're not blocking a right-of-way and not violating idling ordinances, what is the purpose of limiting this other than to ensure people with certain occupations are prohibited from living in certain neighborhoods unless they can also afford an extra (smaller) vehicle and off-site vehicle storage?

h. No generation of dust, odors, noise, vibration, or electrical interference or fluctuation shall be perceptible beyond the property line.

Most of this I can get behind but we already have a noise ordinance; why should an occupation be held to a standard higher than a frat party?

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