Since Hurricane Katrina, Home Occupation Permits for St. Charles Parish continue to be authorized at an unprecedented rate. As almost three to four permits are approved at each parish council meeting, the explosion of the permits is another indicator of the parish's burgeoning growth.
With the majority of the permits centered in the construction industry, the permits are an indicator of the type of economic opportunities available in the region post-Katrina, as many contractors are working in the New Orleans metro area as part of the rebuilding effort.
Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, Director of Planning & Zoning Michael Henderson said 45 out of the 118 permits were issued from September through December, nearly half of the total in the last quarter of the 2005.
Since January, the demand has not slowed, and, in fact, it has accelerated, as 50 permits were issued in the first quarter of 2006.
"I think that the storm, the home computer and the ease and cost benefits to running a business out of the home are the main reasons," said Henderson.
As for problems incurred with the large amount of permits granted, Henderson said he received relatively few complaints from residents in the parish. The biggest problem he suspects is those business owners operating a business from their home illegally.
For illegal operators to be stopped, a complaint must be filed, then Planning & Zoning can issue a cease and desist order.
At council meetings, most grievances by residents are in regards to illegal operators leaving heavy equipment and supplies, such as large trucks or roofing materials, around a home or a subdivision. Another frequent objection aired is that an operator has too many employees in and around the home.
A multi-layered process, beginning with filing an application at Planning & Zoning, the applicant's property is then publicly posted for 10 days. After which, a hearing is held with Planning & Zoning, whereby the board recommends or opposes the application. Following this hearing, the application is moved to the parish council for final approval.
All told, "There is a lapse of 30 to 60 days before they can get their permit," said Henderson.
With a process that can take several months, Henderson believes that the length of the process can be a deterrent. "I think it is important that we make the process as simple as possible, so not to discourage people," said Henderson.
"My concern is that with such a long procedure in place it encourages citizens to start businesses without permits," said Henderson, adding that it is hard to regulate those that operate without permits.
The lengthy procedure in conjunction with the substantially increased number of applicants has created a logjam of those waiting to go through the process.
As for regulations, contractors must be state-licensed in order to get a Home Occupation Permit, which decreases the chance of a homeowner hiring a fraudulent or ill-qualified business owner. If they are violating the rules of the permit, "We can have their state licensed pulled," said Henderson.