City Council Bill Would Relax Constraints on Home-Based Businesses

by Elizabeth Turnbull

In response to prolonged difficulties for small businesses caused by COVID-19 quarantine measures, City Councilmember Dan Strauss and Council President M. Lorena Gonzalez introduced a bill early last week that aims to support small business as well as allow for more flexibility around land use codes and operating out of garages and residences.

“There are home-based businesses in my neighborhood currently operating out of compliance with current code,” Strauss said in a statement. “While they have not been reported or cited, it is important we provide an even playing field for them.”

The legislation, titled “Bringing Business Home, a Small Business Flexibility Bill,” helps businesses that were once housed in commercial spaces or storefronts and have shifted to being based in homes by suspending limits that require patrons to visit by appointment only and requirements regarding on-street parking surrounding the business, among others. 

In addition, the bill proposes home-based businesses would be allowed to operate in a garage or off-street parking stall and to have one non-illuminated sign with the business name of a limited size.

Veronica Very, owner of Black’Butta Co., a baked goods business she operates from her home, said she thinks the bill would be a good step on a longer road to better city regulations that support businesses run from home. The Emerald profiled Very’s home-based comfort food business last December.

“I think it’s a great start toward innovation and equity for many,” Very told the Emerald. “I think we’re going to have to continue to look at being innovative in this way, considering especially the pressure and the opportunity that the pandemic is presenting to us.” 

The bill aims to address the current land-use regulations in light of pandemic-related adjustments to business operations and to help business owners in a section of the economy where women and Black and Indigenous People of Color make up a substantial percentage of businesses.

The new bill is being considered in the Seattle City Council’s Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee, and a full council vote is expected Monday, March 15. 

Thus far, not all councilmembers are as optimistic or sure that the bill will enact positive change that Stauss and Gonzalez are aiming for. 

As of last week, Councilmember Debora Juarez, a member of the Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee that Strauss chairs, raised the concern that the bill may result in more competition for small businesses if at-home businesses pop-up and don’t have to comply with permitting and regulations that other small businesses still confront, according to reporting by the Seattle PI.

Councilmember Alex Pederson also voiced concerns regarding traffic in residential areas. 

At the end of the day, Very believes providing for small businesses in general is paramount since she sees them as one way for the community to heal collectively. 

“It’s going to be important for us to ensure that we are operating in such a way that we afford small businesses, in particular space to create and innovate and present solutions to problems,” Very said. “To present joy where there’s sorrow, to present opportunities for healing.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

 Featured Image: Veronica Very of Black Butta Co. (Photo: Shanell Powell)

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