After complaint forces ‘heartbreaking’ closure of business, Seattle aims to loosen land use rules
Yonder Cider — a popular Greenwood business that sold cans and growlers to-go out of a detached garage — was recently forced to shut down after a neighbor filed numerous complaints with the city. Now, Seattle city councilmembers are hoping to loosen land use laws to allow businesses like Yonder to freely operate, at least for the duration of the pandemic.
Yonder Cider’s owner, Caitlin Braam, had long sought to open her own hard cider tasting room. Those plans were put on hold by the pandemic, which saw her instead opt to use a detached garage to host a scaled-down iteration of her business.
After seven months, though, a neighbor successfully got her shut down, after pointing out to the city that operating a business that sold alcohol out of a residence blocks away from a school violated Seattle’s existing land use codes.
“We had regulars who had been visiting us for months, families who biked to see us every weekend and neighbors who up until our very last day would discover us with delight on their evening walk,” Braam said. “Its closure has been heartbreaking.”
That’s something Councilmembers Dan Strauss and Lorena Gonzalez are looking to change, especially with the ongoing COVID crisis forcing many businesses to find creative ways to stay open.
“The land use code is not set up to be responsive to emerging needs, such as the changing environment created by the pandemic,” Strauss said in a written release.
In practice, the proposed bill would remove a series of limitations imposed on businesses operating out of homes by Seattle’s current land use codes. Restrictions that would no longer exist include:
- Requiring customer visits by appointment only
- Limiting businesses run out of homes to just two employees who aren’t also residents of the home
- Requiring that there’s “no evidence of the home occupation visible” from the exterior of the business
The plan is to have the ordinance remain in place for the duration of the pandemic, in hopes of providing an “even playing field” for businesses like Yonder Cider.
“We appreciate the City Council’s openness and forward thinking on this topic,” Braam said Monday. “Starting a small business – COVID or not – is hard and it’s expensive. Allowing small businesses to safely and securely operate out of their homes not only frees them of the financial burden and stress that come with long term commercial leases, it gives them a chance to be a vibrant and contributing part of their community.”
The bill will be presented in the council’s land use committee on Wednesday, Feb. 24, with a vote in front of the full council set for Monday, March 15.