King County Council to consider ‘greater flexibility’ for residential businesses

Oct 28, 2021, 1:17 PM
residential businesses...
Credit Jeff Sheldon via Unsplash

One third of U.S. households during the pandemic reported working from home. At the same time, Americans started more than one million new small businesses, and many of those businesses have been out of people’s homes. So, is it now time to allow for more and different kinds of residential businesses to reflect this new work-from-home reality?

“The home occupation code has been in place for many generations, 80 years [or more in] some municipalities,” King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.

“It harkens back to a time when everybody went into a storefront, manufacturing facility, or an office complex to work, and very few people worked from home,” he continued. “Perhaps every 10 years it’s been updated, but it has not been updated since the COVID-19 pandemic began.”

“We have seen a seismic shift. I mean, a shift that hasn’t happened in centuries, really since industrialization, of people working from home,” Dunn said. “It’s high time, given all of the changes, that we at least look at it, open it up, think about it, talk about it and review what it is that we need to be doing in our homes and [review] what’s acceptable and what isn’t.”

Host Gee Scott asked Dunn why something as simple as a home bakery can become hamstrung by municipal code which disallows residential zones from operating as businesses.

“So here’s the deal. I’m on Instagram. I got cookies for sale. I mean fire, fire cookies,” Scott said. “You go ahead and you put in your order by 12 a.m. You go ahead and send me that Venmo or that Cash App, and you can come and pick up your cookies. Why should that not be able to happen? Is that fair for the cookie shop right down the street that’s paying their lease every month?”

“First of all, I want some of those cookies,” Dunn replied.

“But here’s the issue: I visited a baker just the other day, and they are long-time bakery in Black Diamond. They’ve earned the reputation. They have a business license. They have business insurance. They have to meet certain safety protocols in terms of the preparation of food as required by King County,” he explained. “All of a sudden, [with] what’s happened during this last pandemic year and a half, folks all over the state really are making from their own kitchens, which on its face kind of makes sense. But there aren’t any business licenses, there aren’t any standards for cleanliness.”

“Are we regulating enough some of these home occupations, and is it creating an unfair competition for those businesses who have to follow all the rules and have a storefront?”

“The home occupation code can do two things,” Dunn said. “It can reinforce and crack down on the folks who are operating outside of the current law. It can also expand, and it can provide opportunities for folks to work from home. I want to look at both sides of that coin to determine whether or not we are thinking through this properly.”

Dunn discussed how the code does not accommodate unique situations, which is one opportunity for amendment and change as he sees it.

“One of the challenges here is a real common scenario: husband and wife, one is an architect, one’s a lawyer, for example,” he continued. “They each have a home business, so they could have each have an employee, and they could each have clients. All of a sudden you’re talking about four [parking] spots in front of their house.”

“The code doesn’t contemplate that kind of a scenario,” he added. “We need to think through that. At the end of the day, you know what people do inside their homes, I think makes sense to encourage livelihood.”

Dunn mentioned the benefits of opening up the city code to accommodate more at-home businesses.

“They are not congesting the streets and highways with vehicle traffic to the downtown business core,” he added. “They are not engaging in expanded carbon emissions from the vehicle. It doesn’t require the county and state to build as many roads.”

However, he cautioned against amending those zoning regulations too dramatically for fear of losing the residential atmosphere which many King County neighborhoods enjoy.

“At the same time, you don’t want to turn neighborhood zones traditionally into a beehive of activity that no longer reflects the quality of life we’re used to,” he noted. “It’s a little bit like … opening Pandora’s box, but I think there’s opportunity for improvement.”

Dunn mentioned that he is interested in hearing from the community in terms of their suggestions for how to adjust the code to reflect a post-pandemic reality.

“One of the reasons I want to talk to you is I’m looking for ideas because I think everybody’s got their own scenario here that they can speak to where things would be better for them,” Dunn said.

“There may be that we can add in some creative solutions, … on a case by case basis, something[which] is appropriate in a given location,” he said. “It’s more nuanced, creates greater flexibility, gives people more options.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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King County Council to consider ‘greater flexibility’ for residential businesses