Milton council to define home occupations

Special permits process lengthy, expensive
Milton Town Council is considering an amendment to its code to better define a home occupation and its process to obtain a business license. BY NICK ROTH
October 24, 2013

To clear up confusion and help home-based business owners, Milton Town Council is analyzing regulations for home occupations. As it stands, to offer piano lessons in one's home, a resident would be required to apply for a special-use permit, triggering an expensive and lengthy process with the planning and zoning commission.

Robin Davis, town project coordinator, suggested town council revise town code to better delineate what needs planning and zoning review.

“It seems to be a little more business friendly to some of these home-based businesses that don't have an impact on a residential area,” Davis said. “Maybe we can spread them out. I think there's a broad spectrum of businesses that we are lumping into home occupations.”

Davis used the piano lessons to outline the situation to council. Because piano lessons are classified as a home occupation, a piano teacher cannot simply apply for a business license. Instead the teacher is required to go before the planning and zoning commission, a process that would likely take a few months and cost about $800 after the individual pays an application fee, notification in the newspaper, certified letters to all neighbors within 200 feet and for the town solicitor and engineer to appear at the planning and zoning meeting.

Davis said it deters prospective business owners from following through with the process.

Resident Robert Palmer said he operates his engineering firm from his kitchen table. He does not believe he needs to go before planning and zoning either.

“It appears to me that there is some ambiguity about what would be considered a home occupation,” he said. “I don't generate any traffic, noise, pollution; however, I do have a business partner and one employee.”

He said he generates no more traffic than a neighbor who lives with a roommate. But under current requirements, he must go through the planning and zoning process for a special permit.

Through a cross reference with a list of state-issued business licenses, Davis discovered a number of residents may be operating home-based businesses without a Milton business license. Before contacting each of the more than 70 residents on the list, Davis said, he is looking for resolution to the home-occupation issue. Without amending the code, he said, he expects the planning and zoning commission to be quite busy in the coming months.

Council tasked Davis with analyzing the list of home-based businesses to see if a criteria can be created to allow residents to bypass the planning and zoning process.

Vice Mayor John Booros is frustrated that town is just now getting around to forcing the issue with business licenses.

“These businesses should've had a license for the last three or four years, and they didn't,” he said. “This is revenue the town has lost, and this town needs revenue. There is no excuse for not having this revenue.”