Wild Ride

It's time to get off the zoning roller coaster.
This story appears in the August 1998 issue of Startups. Subscribe »
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Homebased business owners seem to be on a roller coaster ride these days with local municipalities, zoning boards, planning commissions and others caught behind the times. Outdated, conflicting, discriminatory and poorly written zoning ordinances confuse and discourage people who want to run businesses from home.

Sure, the planning commissions and zoning boards--not to mention state and federal governments--should respond to changes in demographics and the needs of homebased business owners. But they certainly aren't the only ones keeping us on this zoning roller coaster. Every time a homebased business owner has to use his or her own resources to respond to an assault from a disapproving neighbor, every time an unqualified organization rallies to the aid of a business under siege, every time exemptions and special favors are given to corporations to develop work-at-home programs but not to their homebased business counterparts, it muddies the waters.

Rather than solving problems, these time-wasters add to the cycle of discussions and debates, research, meetings, committee hearings, and task force gatherings. Writers and direct-selling groups are among those that have vocalized the need for exemptions from regulations, which, unfortunately, leaves the rest of the homebased business owners holding the proverbial bag.

It's one thing for homebased business owners to have to deal with local municipalities and planning commissions that are behind the times. It's yet another to deal with special interest groups seeking exemption and splinter groups looking for personal gain.

A decade of work has been done on behalf of homebased business owners by advocates who have promoted awareness, pushed for legislation, applauded model zoning ordinances, formed partnerships with cities and economic boards, made recommendations at the state and federal levels, conducted studies, and more. But it's not enough.

The industry is going in circles. So far, it's taken more than a decade to resolve these processes, as homebased business owners get stuck with the onerous task of dealing with local municipalities one by one. We are all exhausting our energies by getting caught up in confrontations and debates. The zoning issue has dragged on far too long.

We need to take our zoning concerns to a higher level of government and importance. If we plan to move through change, we need to change the way we're moving. Homebased business owners need to understand there's no reason to reinvent the wheel; savvy organizations have been down this road before and can help individuals do battle. And larger groups must set aside their egos and develop a sense of purpose as an industry rather than strictly as separate entities. By banding together, maybe some of these matters can be resolved--and soon.

Debra Schacher, a marketing communications consultant, is president of Dare to Dream Marketing Services in Irvine, California, and chair of the National Home Office & Business Opportunities Association.

Edition: November 2016

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