Regulation. Frustration. Those words have become synonymous in the minds of many homebased business owners attempting to right years of zoning regulation wrongs. Michelle Bloom, owner of Minneapolis-based Creative Business Consulting, recalls the moment last May when she heard that the Minneapolis City Council had reversed a zoning ordinance she'd spent three years rewriting and revising with city planners. "I was angry, tremendously frustrated, even sad," says Bloom. "In the business world, something like that just wouldn't have happened. I went home that day and said, ` That's it. I'm done.' "
However, by July, Bloom had recovered from her disillusionment and resumed her mission as director of the Minneapolis Homebased Business Association's Zoning Task Force. "I felt very strongly that this was an important fight for so many reasons," she says. "The council realized after the fact that they voted the way they did because they were uneducated. We asked for meetings with all of them. We came in with the facts, the numbers, the economic impact."
By November, the council had reversed its May vote. "For the most part, we got what we asked for," says Bloom. "The ordinance ended up being a fair and balanced way to regulate while still allowing homebased business owners to flourish."
The effort to strike this balance has led to a jumble of emotions nationwide, as homebased business owners clash with the world of local politics. "It can get nasty, because local governments aren't prepared to officiate over [neighborhood] squabbles," says Stephen Lang, founder of the Mount Evans Home Based Business Association in Evergreen, Colorado. "Most government [officials] are sitting on their hands waiting for something to hit the fan."
Minneapolis is one of a growing number of cities that has chosen to deal with the issue. After a four-year-long process and three revised ordinances, the current Minneapolis statute allows one nonresident to be employed by a homebased business, sets hours the business can be open to the public, and restricts the number of clients visiting the home if the traffic proves detrimental to the character of the neighborhood.
Minneapolis' ordinance is far from extreme when compared to the laws other cities have passed. In the worst cases, operating a business from your home is flat out illegal. In other cities, ordinances regulate the types of businesses you can run. "That's a trap you can't win with, because there's no way to list every business in the world that's acceptable," says Lang, who also has a problem with cities that regulate the amount of residential space that can be used for business activities.
Likewise, homebased business owners should realize that regulation isn't necessarily a machine they must rage against. "We want the regulations," says Lang. "Otherwise, you have some homebased business owners who will take advantage [of the lack of regulations], and then the whole community rises up against us."
"The reality is we get regulated, and we need to deal with it," says Bloom. "And, if the system works at all, the city regulates out of concern for the people. Homebased business owners must continue to have the economic impact we have as a population. Let's go forth with that."