Working from home Home-based businesses: Baltimore County's effort to encourage a positive trend is stymied by fear.

July 06, 1998

IT'S A shame that, after investing two years and endlessly debating an overhaul of its antiquated, overly restrictive home-based business law, Baltimore County ended up with a feeble measure whose sole accomplishment consists of legalizing computers and fax machines.

The effort to make it easier for people to work unobtrusively at home ran into a giant roadblock: community leaders who are squeamish about any kind of commerce in residential neighborhoods. It goes without saying that residential areas are not the place for businesses that bring a stream of traffic, noise, smells or visual pollution. But local community activists rejected attempts to facilitate even innocuous, virtually invisible business activity.

For example, planners proposed allowing home-based businesses a few visitors per week -- so, for example, an architect could meet with a client. They wanted to let people who sell Avon or Amway store products at home, with a permit. This would not have been revolutionary.

Other counties, including Montgomery, Harford, Carroll and Howard, have managed to reconcile low-impact home businesses with neighborhood life. Some set limits on the number of visitors per week and require businesses to keep a record of them; others allow delivery of merchandise and supplies, but only via UPS or through the mail.

Community activists wanted to make Baltimore County's current law more draconian, but officials and business leaders opposed that. Hence, the bill the County Council will vote on does little more than preserve the status quo.

The county will have to come back to this issue. As technology advances, the number of people working from home is growing.

This is a good thing. It means less traffic, more parents at home when their kids get off the bus, more people living in their communities instead of merely sleeping there. With proper controls, home businesses make neighborhoods healthier -- not the other way around.

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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