Ann Arbor is considering a proposal to ban some types of domestic based businesses
ANN ARBOR, MI – During the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has become the norm for many people, and this is causing Ann Arbor officials to consider new regulations for running businesses from home .
It was a topic of discussion at recent city assemblies, and the Planning Commission voted on April 6th to recommend that the city council pass new rules banning different types of home businesses, such as machine shops, metalworking, recording studios, piercing / tattooing Studios and furniture refinishing.
The commission also recommended types of home based businesses such as computer repair, marijuana growing, hair salons, therapy / counseling, personal fitness training, architecture, and accounting / tax preparation.
However, after several local residents complained that the proposed changes were too restrictive – particularly the ban on recording studios and metalworking / machine shops – the commission voted on April 20 to step back and reconsider.
The Rules of Procedure for individuals are now back on the Commission’s agenda on May 18 before they can be presented to the City Council and officials welcome further input.
Ann Arbor musician John Churchville was among several residents who spoke at a recent meeting and told commissioners that he had worked from home for the past year doing virtual shows from the music studio in his basement.
“I’ve gone from more than 50 gigs a year to one last year in a year, and I work in my home studio and it’s – I would consider it – a recording studio,” he said.
He’s also a music teacher and has spent a decade teaching students how to set up home recording studios, he said.
“I have students who have music on Spotify and have won national awards for creating music with their laptops in home studios,” he said, urging city officials to reconsider the ban on home businesses such as recording studios.
Planning officials continued to discuss the issue in committee this week. Rather than listing specific types of home businesses to be allowed and banned, they now tend to just have standards for all home businesses to follow, said Sarah Mills, chair of the planning commission.
This includes restrictions on size, hours, noise, dust, odor, vibration, outdoor storage, and customer travel.
There are currently restrictions stating that a home-based company cannot have more than one non-resident employee, and officials are considering maintaining that.
They are also considering keeping the language from the April 6 approved draft that mechanized equipment should only be used in a fully enclosed building.
The April 6 draft also included exemptions for certain types of home professions, including artists, sculptors, composers, and craftsmen who do not sell their products on the premises, home offices with no customer visits, and answering / messaging services.
For deliveries to domestic companies, officials considered limiting them to the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., but they are now backing off because a domestic company, for example, cannot control when Amazon delivers a package.
Even so, customer visits would be limited to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. as part of the discussion, Mills said.
She expects the next draft regulation to allow up to four customer visits at the same time, but not more than 20 to 24 customer visits per day. This would be an increase over the current limit of 10 business vehicle trips per day.
Existing city codes state that no more than 25% of a home can be used for a home business. Officials have suggested keeping this, although they are allowed to be larger – possibly up to 2,000 square feet but no larger than the house – when in an accessory structure like a garage. However, there could be no outside storage of goods or heavy equipment.
Officials stress that the rules would apply to people who run businesses that earn income, not hobbyists.
Brett Lenart, the city’s planning manager, explained the impetus for updating the rules for domestic businesses at the April 6th planning committee meeting.
“This was brought to my attention, maybe in the context of a crazy year, and a year in particular when a lot more people are likely to be working from home,” he said.
The existing city code lists some types of professions that may or may not be allowed as domestic companies, but there is ambiguity, Lenart said, giving his reason for suggesting longer lists of certain types of allowed and prohibited domestic companies to be more clear.
Other proposed changes aim to answer questions that have arisen regarding the enforcement of rules for companies based in their own country. For example, the current code, which allows up to 10 business trips a day, doesn’t really differentiate between customer visits and deliveries, Lenart said.
Mills said she couldn’t speak for the entire planning commission, but she doesn’t think there are certain types of home businesses that the commission is currently trying to ban, although it would be difficult for some to meet the proposed standards.
The city’s move to reconsider the regulation was not due to complaints or issues about certain types of home-based businesses, she said.
“It was more that when people moved from home they had questions and some of the standards were vague, and the list of professions that were allowed doesn’t cover all of the things people now do from home could, “she said.
In an attempt to modernize the ordinance, officials took a prime example from the American Planning Association, Mills said.
The commissioners said they had heard loud and clear from the public that the regulation needed more work, they made a mistake when they voted on it earlier this month and they welcome more contributions.
For example, although home dental offices are not allowed under current city law, they may be under changes that are currently being considered, Mills said, adding that it would be helpful for the commission to know how residents feel about it feel.
Julian Carpenter, a resident of Ann Arbor, told commissioners he had set up a small specialty factory in town and had industrial property for it, but he worked with several people in machine shops at home.
“And they are contributing to the community and the economy in this area across the board,” he said, adding that they are very respectful and their home activities are calm.
“Most people don’t even know they have equipment in their home to make things,” he said. “And these are old university physics professors, extremely specialized machinists from industry who now have a different career. But as a manufacturer in the region, I and our other partner companies use these home machine shops occasionally and regularly for a little job here, a little job there, and they’re a bigger part of this community and economy than you might think. “
Ann Arbor-based Michael Flynn, owner of FunExhibits.com, said he does “amazing and fun” toy and art exhibits for museums and uses metalworking tools to prototype in his garage before his products are sold worldwide.
“There really should be a haven for inventors in Ann Arbor,” he said, warning against putting in place regulations that could stop such home operations.
The existing city code states that these professions can be “qualified” as eligible home businesses: accountant, architect, artist, author, consultant, tailor, individual musical instrument tuition, individual academic tuition, millinery, canning and home cooking. And it expressly forbids only “vehicle repairs or painting; Office, medical or dental. “
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