Despite economy, number of home occupations fall

Economic ups and downs may seem like just the motivation a person needs to start their own company and work from home. After all, they’d save money on gas, eating-out expenses and an array of other commuter costs.

However, the current business trends in St. Charles Parish display just the opposite.

With only 22 home occupation permits approved this year, Marny Stein, development review planner for the department of planning and zoning, says that the economy hasn’t caused an increase locally.

“We have not seen as many home occupation permits in the first half of 2009 as we have seen in the past six years,” she said. “There seemed to be a spike in home occupations after Hurricane Katrina, but the current economy does not seem to be causing an increase in our parish.”

A home occupation is simply described as a business with the domicile address in someone’s home and there are restrictions on the way the business can be operated out of the household.

“Arguably, the most important thing for people to remember is that all sales of products and the performance of all services must take place off of the premises,” Stein said. “However, the planning director, in some cases,  can permit on-premises sales or performance of services when it is found that such sales or services will not produce any detrimental effects on the neighborhood.”

Home occupations are often professional services like consulting, tax preparation, accounting, drafting, transport and delivery services. In recent years, an increase has been recorded in general and specialized building contractors and online retailers.

“Other regulations that differ from regular businesses include no signage, no vehicles larger than one ton, no employees except for people who live in the home, no outdoor storage and all services provided must be performed inside a building,” Stein said. “Home occupations must also possess current state and local licenses, and can’t serve alcoholic beverages in relation to the business.”

Stein points out that the biggest problem cited in the home occupation sector is the number of people who should have a permit and don’t.

“Any business that has its domicile address at a home should have a certificate of zoning compliance,” she said. “Some businesses are just using their home telephone and computer, and they are surprised to find out that using this equipment requires zoning compliance.”

In an effort to make the home occupation permitting process more affordable, the department is proposing an ordinance that will reduce the administrative application  fees from $200 to $25.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the application fee was $100. After the storm, the planning and zoning department wrote an ordinance to simplify the home-occupation permit process in oder to help people get licensed quickly so that recovery work could be speeded up.

“We thought that this would help citizens who had lost their jobs and also provide workers for recovery efforts,” Stein said. “However, the Parish Council seemed concerned that the types of businesses needed for the recovery were not suited to neighborhoods. Instead, they passed an ordinance that kept the process basically the same and doubled the fee to $200.”

In addition to residents beginning a home occupation, vendors participating in the German Coast Farmer’s Market are also subject to permitting.

“Many local arts and crafts  merchants would lose interest  when they found out that it costs $200 for the initial permit and then an annual fee for an occupational license,” Stein said. “Few neighboring parishes or municipalities have a fee that approaches $200. In Jefferson Parish, for example, the zoning clearance costs $50. It seems that the fee is discouraging to vendors participating in our own local market.”

Stein says that the department is proposing that the fee for the “administrative” permits be $25, but reminds residents that an annual occupational licensing will still be required.

For more information on home occupation rules and regulations, call 985-783-5060.


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