AUGUSTA — Proposed land use ordinance changes discussed by city councilors Thursday would tighten rules for the owners of businesses operating in their homes.

The new rules would prohibit new automobile repair shops from operating at residential properties as so-called home occupation businesses, and require such shops that exist now to be licensed by the city, out of concern they might bring noise and environmental damage that doesn’t fit in neighborhoods.

The rules would not apply to Airbnb-type online home rentals and sharing, which Development Director Matt Nazar said is not a type of business that has drawn any complaints in the city. Nazar also said there don’t seem to be many such businesses operating in Augusta. Some municipalities now regulate such rentals.

Nazar said automobile repair shops based at residential properties are what draw the most complaints from residents.

The initial proposed changes would have allowed them as conditional uses, requiring Planning Board review; but some councilors said Thursday the rules should ban any new auto shop home occupation businesses and grandfather existing businesses as long as they get a city license.

“I want it to be banned,” Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti said of auto shops operating in residential neighborhoods. “I think an auto repair shop is an intensive use. It involves noise, fuel, chemical use. …”

The ordinance as proposed would apply only to home-based business expected to generate pedestrian or automotive traffic in a neighborhood, though Conti said she believes all home-based businesses should be required to get a license.

It appeared at Thursday’s council meeting that a majority of councilors favored the rules applying only to home businesses expected to generate traffic, not all home occupations. Whether such a business does that, and thus has to obtain a license, would be determined by city code enforcement officers. Nazar said the effect of a home-based business on a neighborhood also would be determined in part based upon the complaints it generates from its neighbors.

He said the original idea of home-based businesses sprang from the 1950s, with stay-at-home mothers starting, for example, hairdressing businesses in their homes. He said the use should not affect neighbors, not alter the residential nature of the property, and should be secondary to the use of the property as a home.

Some councilors expressed concern that regulation could go too far if it does not allow, for example, sales of clothing, candles or makeup from homes; woodworkers to sell a few birdhouses they make; or gardeners with a few extra tomatoes to sell them at their homes.

Kristin Collins, an attorney working for the city, said the ordinance as proposed could ban the sale of products such as makeup, because as written it would ban the sale of items that aren’t made at the home and aren’t incidental to the business.

“We want people to make a living and be able to do these small things, but not have an impact,” At-large Councilor Marci Alexander said to Nazar and Collins. “We send you back to the drawing board on that.”

Councilors also debated how much a home occupation business license should cost. Some favored the $30 proposed in the draft rules, to keep the cost low and increase the chances business owners would come get a license instead of not getting a license and trying to remain undetected.

Conti said the cost should be higher, around $300, to help pay for the city’s cost of regulating such businesses, which she said should be borne by the businesses, not all taxpayers.

The licenses would have to be renewed every three years, giving code officers a chance to review the businesses that often to make sure they still comply with the standards of city ordinances.

The ordinance would limit the physical size of home-based businesses to no more than 30 percent of the footprint of the primary residence on the property. The business still could be in an outbuilding on the property, as long as it occupies a space that is no bigger than 30 percent of the home on the property.

It also would limit the number of people who could work at home-based businesses to no more than one person other than family members who reside in the home.

The city staff is expected to refine the rules and bring them back for more discussion at the council’s next informational meeting, currently scheduled for June 13.


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