"You could apply for a special permit," said Village Attorney David Dubow. "If you meet the criteria of that special permit you are granted permission and that use is proper and lawful under the Village's regulations. There are a lot of people these days that work at home."
The revisions were prompted by a heated incident earlier this year in which Shannon Park resident applied for a special permit to operate a hair salon. Neighbors objected strenuously to the prospect of clients going in and out of the secluded, quiet neighborhood behind the Ithaca Mall. A public hearing on April 29 was extended to a second session in May before the Planning Board rejected the special permit application.
Working with Code Enforcement Officer Marty Moseley, the board sought to clarify the definition of home occupation. The existing law defines Home occupation as 'An occupation, or profession which is carried on by a person residing in the dwelling unit, and is clearly incidental and accessory or secondary to the use of the dwelling unit for residential purposes.' The revision adds 'use and/or activity' to 'occupation and profession'.
Existing law defines home occupation as including uses and activities incidental and accessory or secondary to the use of the dwelling unit for residential purposes. The revision goes further to strictly define three conditions under which the special permit is not required. The revised law exempts homeowners from the requirement to obtain a special permit if there are no customers or clients visiting the home, no sale of goods or services from the dwelling, and no vehicle traffic other than for home related activities.
If you telecommute to a brick-and-mortar business located elsewhere you almost certainly don't need to worry about a special permit. But even if you run a low impact business from your home you're likely to be required to ask the planning board for permission. That not only includes the obvious kinds of businesses, like a hair salon, to which customers would be coming and going frequently, but also smaller concerns.
"It seems to me that piano teachers with students who are dropped off at the house and picked up by cars are going to have to have a permit," said Deputy Mayor Lynn Leopold. "Which clarifies it. It doesn't cost them anything."
Village Attorney David Dubow agreed, saying the new language doesn't really change the existing law. He said piano teachers are likely to already have obtained a special permit if they work from home.
"They have to meet the criteria that it won't increase traffic significantly and there won't be other impacts," he said. "At the end of the day for the (hair salon) project that was not granted a special permit the criteria on which they based that decision were traffic issues and the concerns with respect to traffic and the ingress and egress to that development."
Dubow said the decision as to whether to grant a special permit is more evaluative, rather than an administrative decision. The Planning Board applies ten conditions when considering a special permit application. He said an additional ten conditions are applied when a special permit application is submitted for a home occupation.
"It's a pretty extensive review," he said. "The position that Marty has taken is that this language doesn't change that. The previous language would probably have covered that use. Is there a person there who is teaching and having someone coming to their home, and if there is traffic... that is the purpose of the special permit review."
Dubow stressed that receiving a special permit for a home occupation is not daunting for low impact work, and in some cases not even required.
"In recent years somebody was growing vegetables on their property," he said. "They were then taking the vegetables to the Farmer's Market. They wanted to make sure that they weren't violating the Village regulations so they came in and were reviewed. And got their special permit. I'm not sure they needed it, but they wanted it to verify that they were doing things properly."
Dubow said the law's impact on temporary uses, including artists who open their homes for the Ithaca Art Trail, has not been discussed.
The board voted to schedule a public hearing to respond to the proposed changes at the September 15th Trustee meeting.