Working from home Home-based business: Governments should facilitate telecommuting, other changes.

November 19, 1997

TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES are making it possible for more people to work at home. This is a good thing. Home-based businesses mean less traffic congestion, less pollution, more parents at home with their children. Studies show that home-based workers are extremely efficient.

Home-based businesses are important from an economic standpoint; sometimes they grow into enterprises that migrate to commercial areas. Government should make it easy for someone to work unobtrusively from home.

In Baltimore County, the planning commission tomorrow discusses a revision of the home-based business law. Officials must not bow to pressure from those who insist that even invisible commercial endeavors should be segregated from neighborhoods.

Planners were ready to make the law friendier to home businesses. They wanted to allow home-based businesses a few visitors per week -- so a consultant could meet with a client, for instance. They also proposed letting people who sell Avon or Amway store products at home, with a permit. These sensible changes would not harm a community's character. But planners backed down after a citizens advisory panel reacted squeamishly.

Fortunately, officials now seem to realize that the citizen panel took an unduly harsh position, and are considering a more reasonable stance. There is plenty of precedent in the area.

In Harford County, with a "zoning certificate" you can conduct all but certain high-impact business activities (such as auto repair or a kennel) at home, with conditions. The traffic can't be more than what is normal in a residential area, the business can't occupy more than a quarter of a home's square-footage and you can't have more than one or (in the case of medical offices) two non-resident employees.

Anne Arundel's home-based business law is restrictive, but Carroll and Howard allow a variety of low-impact home businesses as a matter of right under similar conditions. Montgomery County has an excellent model, with three categories of home businesses and regulation that corresponds to the level of impact.

All these laws will have to be amended as technology advances. Neighborhoods will always need protection from noise and excessive traffic. But unobtrusive commerce in residential areas is not merely harmless; it strengthens communities in important ways.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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