Home-business law up for debate in Knox

KNOX — After months of discussing the local law that allows home businesses, Knox’s planning board chairman is asking the zoning board of appeals to weigh in on an interpretation of the law.

Planning board Chairman Tom Wolfe went before the zoning board at its Dec. 6 meeting to ask for an interpretation of the zoning ordinance because he said that the planning board members could not agree on the current definition of home occupation at their meeting last month.

Some members, Wolfe said, feel that a home business must stay within the limits described in its zoning district — a beauty shop in someone’s home, for example, could not operate in a residential district where it’s not allowed — while others feel that a home business is not subject to these permissions since section 50A of the zoning law states, “Nothing in this ordinance shall prevent individuals from conducting their business, trade, or profession … .”

Discussion of home businesses has run in the background during the long-running debate over creating a second business district in Knox, with home businesses operating with fewer restrictions being offered as either an alternative or an addition to a second business district. Last year, the town board discussed how some of the home businesses in town, started after zoning was adopted in 1974, may be illegal. The Enterprise editorialized on the subject in April 2017, urging the town to make it simple to certify a home business that has no effect on neighbors or the surrounding environment, not requiring extensive or extensive review.

Wolfe told The Enterprise after the Dec. 6 meeting that the planning board has been discussing home-occupancy laws for five or six months now, mostly over items like adding the use of accessory buildings or allowing more than one employee at a home business.

Zoning board member Dennis Cyr said that he felt that the home businesses would not be restricted by an area’s zoning, although they would fall under other restrictions.

“To me, what I think, no ordinance can stop you from doing that in your home, place of business, with restrictions after that,” he said.

Fellow zoning board member Kristian Snyder concurred, but said it would be further determined in the board’s discussion.

Both Wolfe and zoning board Chairman Douglas Roether agreed that, in their opinion, the definition of home-occupancy is that the business is confined to the home and has little evidence of even existing from outside the home.

Planning board member Robert Price had told The Enterprise earlier that he did not believe the zoning board served in the capacity of making a decision on a law, and was only to act when a law or decision needs to be appealed.

A the meeting, town attorney Javid Afzali said that the planning board has the power to change town laws with the town board’s approval; the power to interpret the existing law lies with the zoning board. He said that there will be 30 days following the planning board’s decision before the planning board would follow the zoning board’s interpretation.

Afzali said that he would offer case law, other interpretations of the law, and background information to assist the board.

“It’s your decision; it’s not my decision,” he told the board.

The board agreed to table the discussion until its next meeting.

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