We recently learned that our member, Linda Balon Stein of of Zosimos Botanicals in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is being challenged to choose between moving her business outside her home or terminating some of her employees. The zoning laws in Linda's area prohibit home-based businesses from having more than one employee. Linda has an employee and an intern. Earlier this week, Linda filed a request for special exception to the law — filing fee: $500.
Interestingly, the law does not define “employee,” so Linda's intern (who is not an employee according to state or federal law) is being treated by local officials as an employee. Linda took a moment to share some of the details about her situation.
dM: What is the purpose of the zoning law at issue here?
The spirit of the law is to make sure that home-based businesses do not conduct business in a manner that is more suited to a commercially zoned area. My business has no adverse impact on the neighborhood. It's a shame that the city official who inspected my business did not have the discretion to make that determination. It would have saved my community a lot of resources, and saved me $500.
dM: How is this proceeding impacting your day-to-day business at this time?
Well, I feel like I'm being penalized for being successful. I've grown my business to the point where I can pay people to help me continue to be successful, and along comes this issue. I never dreamed this would be anything more than a rubber stamp.
My business tries to do good. My employees and interns are mothers, like me. One has a handicapped son and she benefits from having a job with flexible hours so she does not have to compromise her family responsibilities. We support local causes. We have have won “green” business awards from our city.
For the City to force me to pay $500 to ask for an exception to an arbitrary element in a law is so unnecessary. I have been doing this for 9 years.
dM: Have you enjoyed the support of your local community during this process?
Yes. First of all, my husband helps me set up at the market and gives my products as gifts to friends and family. He loves my creativity and helps out around the house when I am making products and running my business. We make a great team, and he is my first line of support.
Some of the city council members are supporting me. I cannot say enough about my neighbors, who have signed petitions and written letters to show their support, letting the city know that my business does not have an adverse impact on the community.
I am also grateful to everyone, including the Indie Business Network, who donated funds to help me raise the $500 I needed to file the appropriate paperwork to request the special exception.
What happens next?
We have no choice but to move forward with legal proceedings. We go before the City Planning Commission on September 11, and then a City Board of Appeals hearing on September 19.
I am a former practicing attorney so I can at least navigate the proceedings on my own. I have little to no experience with zoning though (at least until now), so I am not even sure I'm covering all of my bases. Like any other entrepreneur, I am doing my best, and with all of the support, I feel positive about working with the City Attorney to reach a result that everyone can live with.
Update: September 19, 2013
I am pleased to report that Linda has been granted a Special Exception for her home based business by the Board of Appeals in her county! Linda gets to keep all four of her employees, and they can park curbside until the end of Linda's company workday instead of just until 4pm. Congratulations Linda!
You can connect with Linda at her Facebook page.
I worked from my home for years before discovering that the incorporated municipality in which I live requires home-based businesses to pay an annual fee. Who knew?
1. Does your county, city or municipality (or even your homeowner's association covenants) require you to register or pay a fee for your home-based business?
2. Do have have to request an any special exceptions in order to do business in your home?
3. Have you run across any impediments to doing business in your home?
Please share your thoughts and ideas below. We love hearing from you!