Resident calls for more oversight of home businesses

By Brett Jones
Published on September 4, 2008

A Mustang man warned City Council members Tuesday that failure to tighten rules on home-based businesses could erode the city’s bottom line and lower property values.

For Wayne Watts, the visit to the Council chambers was the second in two weeks after addressing the Council on Aug. 19 regarding “unsightly parking” examples throughout the city. In that visit, Watts carried with him 67 pictures he said he had snapped in less than 90 minutes.

“I am not here to create problems between people, neighbors and the City Council,” he said. “That is not my purpose. My purpose is to try to get the city to be as decent a place as we can have to live in.”

Watts addressed the Council during the public comment section of the agenda and before Council members were given a staff report detailing a review of the city’s home occupational ordinance — the law dealing with what types of businesses may be operated out of a home.

He said he has voiced concerns to city staff about the operation of an auto parts business out of his neighbor’s garage, and although he had not seen the staff’s report to the Council, he encouraged Council members to consider the following when reviewing it:

-Any home-based business that sells inventory to customers erodes the city’s business district because such businesses do not reinvest in that business district;

-Selling inventory out of a home often means of city, state and federal taxes go unpaid, as well as any city business license fees;

-Selling inventory out of a home may present a health and safety concern if hazardous materials are involved in the transactions;

-Selling inventory out of a home may lead the property owner to convert parts of the structures into uses not compatible with zoning. He said it also robs neighboring property owners of their due-process in determining what is located next to their home; and

-Home-based businesses could decrease property values due to concerns such as increased traffic in the neighborhood.

If tighter rules were adopted, Watts said businesses such as Avon and Mary Kay would not be a target since their transactions are done either by catalog or inside the customers’ home.

“People have to accept responsibility for living in a society — that means we shouldn’t do things that are going to harmful to neighbors or our community,” Watts said.

City Manager David Cockrell said his staff reviewed the current ordinance and investigated Watts’ concerns about his neighbor’s business. They found no need to make changes.

“We believe as a staff and with our city attorney that our home occupation ordinance is quite adequate,” Cockrell said. “One of the reasons that I think I can safely say that is because in the six or seven years I have been over here, this is the second complaint of home occupation that we have ever received.”

Cockrell said the first case was resolved by simply telling the people their business was out of compliance with the law. In the case of Watts’ neighbor, Cockrell said staff was told the business has been out of operation since January.

Cockrell said if there is a lot of traffic to and from a house and transactions are occurring on premises that would violate the existing ordinance.

“People have the right to make money,” he said.

However, a violation would occur if it was believed that a home’s main use was for making money and not as a residence, he said.

The Council took no action on the staff report, but Cockrell advised city leaders that the concerns expressed to city staff may lead to some other ordinance revisions.

The city staff report did not offer Watts any encouragement.

Watts said the city’s rules do little to regulate Internet-based businesses that operate out of a home since those don’t involve on-site transaction or increase traffic around the house.

“It just seems amazing to me that you would not want to regulate this,” Watt said.

In other action, the Council voted to:

-Approve the final plat for the Magnolia Trace Addition, Phase 4;

-Amend a city ordinance dealing with flood damage as required by Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring it into compliance and allow for the city to still take part in the National Flood Insurance Program;

-Accept the bid by Pierce Manufacturing for the purchase of 2009 triple-combination pumper truck by the fire department, which was approved by voters in a previous bond issue. Pierce’s bid was the lowest at $427,814.

-Table a request by Council members to join the national League of Cities and attend the annual conference in November. The request will be considered during the 2009-2010 budget discussions next spring.

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