FOLLOWUP: First discussion of City Council proposal to loosen rules for running businesses at home

Two days after the announcement of a proposal to relax rules for operating businesses at home, a City Council committee discussed it this morning. The Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee is chaired by the bill’s main sponsor, Councilmember Dan Strauss. No vote today, but the committee heard a presentation from council staff as well as comments from councilmembers and the public. The latter included the proprietor of a business cited as inspiration for the bill, a cider company that tried becoming home-based because of the pandemic but ran afoul of city rules. The main presentation/discussion starts at 1 hour, 21 minutes into the meeting video (which you can watch above or here on the Seattle Channel website). The presentation included a mention that if this is adopted, city staff also could start researching making some or all of its provisions permanent; otherwise, it would be temporary, for up to a year. Here’s the slide deck from today’s presentation:

Many of the questions asked during the briefing were from North Seattle Councilmember Debora Juarez. She expressed concern that, as written, the proposal could open the door for neighborhood businesses run from homes to endanger small businesses in nearby business districts. For example, she said, what would be stopping someone from turning their garage into an espresso stand, taking business away from an established shop a few blocks away that has higher expenses because it’s a permanent brick-and-mortar business? “I’m supportive of the intent, but the application … is where I get concerned.” Other agencies’ rules would still apply – for example, health rules for commercial food/beverage service – Strauss said. You can read the proposed legislation here; it’s expected to return to the committee for a potential vote on March 10th.

14 Replies to "FOLLOWUP: First discussion of City Council proposal to loosen rules for running businesses at home"

  • flimflam February 24, 2021 (8:27 pm)

    lol, if there are taxes to be had, rest assured this will go through easily!

    • WSB February 24, 2021 (8:39 pm)

      No, there is no tax component to this. Businesses already pay city (and state) B&O taxes whether they operate from home or a storefront.

    • Eric1 February 24, 2021 (9:45 pm)

      LOL flimflam, I was thinking just the opposite.  I thought that given this particularly ineffective city council, this regulation might be ready for the next pandemic in 2120.  No way this gets done before the current pandemic is over.

  • Stevie J February 24, 2021 (11:04 pm)

    Zoning regulations enacted in the early 20th century separated land uses. Before this happened, since the beginning of civilizations thousands of years ago, businesses and housing were intertwined. Everyone had the opportunity to buy goods and services nearby. I imagine people selling cider to their neighbors is a very old practice indeed. 

    However, regulations that forced housing to be separate from businesses (and other auto-centric land use/transportation planning) changed this paradigm. Now people live on the outskirts and have to drive to the center of the city to work and shop. 

    Now that there are fewer people going downtown, there is a natural demand for more shops and businesses in residential zones. We have come full circle and are now desiring more traditional land use patterns. 

    With all this in mind, I think the council is bending over backwards to avoid a topic that is more controversial. We need to allow all housing types and small businesses in all parts of the city. If white collar workers can work from home, we should also allow small shops and other businesses to flourish right where people live.

    Once upon a time business owners would live right on top of or near their business. We should remove regulations that prevent this arrangement. 

    • Reed February 25, 2021 (9:41 am)

      Sure, so long as these businesses are required to modify their homes to meet all current safety and health standards/codes for whatever they plan to do. I don’t want my neighbor using his garage as a commercial kitchen that can potentially take my house down when it goes up in flames.

      • WSB February 25, 2021 (9:50 am)

        As mentioned in the story and at the hearing, all other requirements – for example, commercial-kitchen requirements for food/beverages – would remain. This would involve a very specific set of city land-use rules (signage, parking).

  • anonyme February 25, 2021 (6:57 am)

    As written, these are common-sense rules that benefit communities, not just individuals.  How does switching the physical location of a business change the impact of Covid on that business?  I don’t see how lifting these rules will actually help home businesses, although it does seem designed to give the appearance of doing so.  In other words, politics.  What it will do is to give the city less work with a few more laws they won’t have to enforce – as if they did anyway. The neighbors of these businesses will be the only ones to suffer the consequences. Good luck getting the original rules reinstated after the pandemic is ‘over’.

    • WSB February 25, 2021 (9:11 am)

      Because it means a business can operate without paying rent. For a small business, thousands less in expenses per month can be huge.

      • anonyme February 25, 2021 (9:37 am)

        Hmmm, good point. Hadn’t thought of that aspect.  I’d still like to see restrictions on certain types of businesses in residential areas.  Peaceful enjoyment and all that…

      • Question Authority February 25, 2021 (7:11 pm)

        So those landlords will now go hungry for renters, with everything new someone loses.

  • Mj February 25, 2021 (10:40 am)

    Years ago when I moved into a new home one of my new neighbors was very concerned that I had a home based business, consulting that has been legal for a long time, but after a few months she realized the benefit that I was home with a view of the neighborhood, aka crime prevention. 

    Not all types of businesses are conducive to be home based.  Traffic and parking are a couple of item’s that need to be properly vetted

  • Shambles February 25, 2021 (2:26 pm)

    I worked in a home based business and agree with MJ. It was nice to be present (crime prevention) and get package deliveries for neighbors. We were a small operation in a basement. I parked in the home’s driveway so parking wasn’t an issue.  However there was another home based business on that street that had 6 employees and pickup/drop off and there was quite a ruckus from the other neighbors who shut it down based on the existing rules. So I can see both viewpoints. 

  • Kathy February 25, 2021 (4:35 pm)

    No limit on the number of employees working from a home? Did I read that right? That seems a little crazy.

  • Kathy February 25, 2021 (6:03 pm)

    The city does not have the wherewithall to ensure compliance of home businesses under existing rules. The burden is put on neighbors to report non compliance hoping that inspections and citations produce compliance.  I can see maybe loosening up the appointment rule, and maybe the sign rule, but other than that, allowing unlimited employees on the site is not well thought out and just asking for conflicts. Also, it seems to me the idea for this proposal sprang from the example cited where the business owner was caught flaunting the rules. They got a lot of sympathetic press for doing this, but violating the rules gave them an unfair advantage over other businesses. And that does not bode well for compliance in the future under the proposed loosened rules. 

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