At-home business laws get 2nd look Group revising rules will expand and finish proposals by April 17

February 22, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Bowing to community pressure, Baltimore County planners said yesterday that they would take a second look at proposed changes in the law regulating dentists, telecommuters, Avon ladies and others who run home-based businesses.

Many residents have raised objections to the controversial county legislation -- designed to reflect the realities of work in the 1990s. They say it would lead to clogged streets and neighborhoods marred by business signs.

Even some supporters agree that community leaders and others need more time to study the measure.

Now, county planners say they will expand the group crafting the proposed changes and come up with any revisions by mid-April.

"Planning's role is to get this on the table. I'm actually encouraged by the amount of interest," said Hillorie Morrison, the planner in charge of the bill.

Under the county's current law, adopted in 1955 and amended in 1982, it is illegal for home-based business owners to have fax machines and computers if they are mainly used for business purposes. It also is illegal for business owners such as Amway sellers or craftsmen to store products at home.

County officials have been working for months to modernize the law, and the Maryland Home-Based Business Association hopes the proposed legislation will become a model for the state, which has an estimated 40,000 home-based businesses.

Rather than trying to list which home businesses ought to be permitted and which ones barred, county planners recommended creating three classifications focusing on the impact a business would have on a neighborhood.

A business with only one employee and few visitors would be allowed to operate in a residential zone without a permit.

A business that receives 10 to 25 visitors a week, or that has commodities stored at home, would require an annual permit. Neighbors would have the right to request a public hearing before a zoning commissioner if they opposed the business.

The third business type -- medical offices -- could operate only if the office was along a major road and in a neighborhood of detached, single-family homes.

More than a dozen people -- many from the Rodgers Forge area -- spoke against the proposal at a hearing Thursday, citing potential problems with traffic and signs. Several community representatives asked the board to delay voting on the measure so they could have more time to review proposed changes.

Even the few supporters at the hearing agreed more work might be needed.

"I think it would be good thing to study some of the issues," said M. Cecelia Merkel, who runs a billing and receiving business from her Pikesville home and supports the legislation.

Planners said yesterday that they would reconvene an advisory committee that worked on the legislation in the fall and expand its membership. In addition to more community leaders, the committee will have three planning board members and a Chamber of Commerce representative.

Among the issues the committee will consider is whether to reduce the number of permitted visits to a business and how much space a business could occupy in a home. The committee also will consider whether stricter limits should be placed on businesses within townhouse communities and whether home-based businesses should be prohibited in rental properties.

The committee is to report back to the Planning Board by April 17. Depending on what the committee suggests, another public hearing may be held.

If the board approves the changes, the measure will then pass to the County Council.

Pub Date: 2/22/97

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