Board of Supervisors Meeting Date:

Raymond E. Graham, Chairman, Cedar Run District Supervisor


August 10, 2006


Staff Lead:


Kimberley Johnson, Zoning Administrator


Community Development



A Resolution Initiating a Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment to Sections 3-302, 5-200, 6-102 and 6-300 to Amend the Regulations Authorizing Home Occupations


Topic Description:

This text amendment is one of a series of text amendments being brought forward to improve the clarity and flexibility of the Zoning Ordinance, with particular emphasis on supporting and promoting business development.  This amendment addresses home occupations.


Requested Action of the Board of Supervisors:

Consider adoption of the attached resolution.


Financial Impact Analysis:

No financial impact analysis has been conducted.


Summary Staff Report: 

This text amendment establishes revised regulations for allowing people to operate businesses out of their homes.  Citizen inquiries about working at home are increasingly common; County records show 105 total Home Occupation permits issued by Zoning in 1991, tripling to 308 by 2005.  This County trend reflects a broader national trend; U.S. Census data showed 4.2 million Americans worked from home in 2000, a 23 percent increase from the number of home-based workers in 1990.   According to a website devoted to supporting and tracking small business activity,, home-based businesses make up 53% of the small business population in the United States. They serve as incubators for growing businesses.   

The current home occupation regulations in the Ordinance were first adopted in 1981.  Over the years, they have been amended many times to add specific new uses or to make minor changes to standards, but the basic structure and approach to home occupations has remained unchanged over the last 25 years.   Rules which served as a reasonable accommodation to home businesses are now badly out of date because of changes in the way that modern businesses operate.   Increasingly, many of the requests for home occupations received by zoning staff do not fit well within the current regulations, and staff is finding that permits must increasingly be denied. In addition, the existing home occupation regulations contain some conflicting regulations which make their application difficult in some instances.  

Staff is recommending a total rewrite of the provisions in order to change the structure of the Ordinance and approach to home businesses.  The current regulations generally list specific allowable home occupations, list prohibited occupations and then provide a variety of standards for the uses.  While this is not an unusual structure for home-occupation Ordinances, this approach is problematic because it is very difficult to keep the Ordinance up-to-date with all potential viable home occupations. Staff is suggesting a move toward a more performance based set of criteria for home occupations.

Home Occupations Approved Administratively

The first issue is identifying the types of home occupations that should be allowed by-right. 

As a starting point, staff recommends that any home business with no impacts be allowed by-right; if it is not possible to tell that the home occupation occurs on the site, and it isn’t dangerous, it seems reasonable to allow it.   The proposed language of the Ordinance lists the characteristics that qualify a business as “no impact:” no employees, customers, clients or others associated with the business coming to the house, no additional traffic to the neighborhood generated by the business, no exterior changes to the property, no noise, vibration, glare, fumes, odors, or electrical interference detectable to the normal senses generated by the business, and no hazardous materials involved. 

Because the existing regulations go much further in allowing home occupations by-right, staff is recommending that, in addition, the revised language continue to allow the types of impacts already allowed by the existing provisions.  The current Ordinance allows up to one employee in a home business.  It allows limited signage.  And it allows, for some service uses, unlimited customers or clients coming to the site.  The revised revisions generally incorporate this additional flexibility into the restructured provisions.  Staff is, however, suggesting a limit on the number of customers/clients allowed to come to a use that is approved administratively.  The proposed limit is one customer at any time and no more than four per day, with the applicant required to demonstrate to the Zoning Administrator that parking is available for the customer/client.

Home Occupations Approved By Special Permit

Although restructured, the provisions authorizing home occupations by special permit are largely unchanged from those in the current Ordinance.  Specific current uses allowed as home occupation by special permit subject to special standards are retained, i.e. gunsmithing, small contracting businesses, auto repair, etc.   Today’s broad categories of “home occupations with retail sales or services” are not retained by name, but the same uses are authorized under the revised structure.  Likewise, the specific category of “cottage industries” (which is difficult to define relative to other home occupation uses) is eliminated, but such uses would still be allowed under the general provisions to the same extent now authorized under the current Ordinance.  Standards for the various uses that were scattered through Article 5 and 6 have been consolidated and presented consistently in Article 5 along with all other standards for special permits.  Retail uses continue to be strictly controlled by generally limiting retail sales to items produced on site.

The main change proposed for home occupations is to allow any home occupation to add a second non-resident employee through a special permit; this privilege is now granted only to home occupations with retail sales or services. Also, any use with more than four customers/clients/visitors per day and/or one customer/client/visitor at a time now is able to ask for authorization through the special permit, where previously this privilege was granted only to certain retail and service uses.

A Note on Barber/Beauty Shops

The existing regulations specifically exclude barber and beauty shops as home occupations, but then go on to allow them under commercial uses in residential zones, subject to the home occupation standards.  This proposed amendment removes this contorted approach and allows them as home occupations provided they meet all standards.  A special permit would be required.


A Note on Contractor’s Offices and Small Contracting Businesses

Currently, there is some ambiguity within the Ordinance as to whether home offices are allowed for contractors or similar business such as landscaping and lawn care services.  The types of specific offices listed as allowed in the Ordinance are all professional or business type offices, which can be distinguished from contractors’ offices as typically contractors’ have equipment and material stored and/or used in association with the business.  Nonetheless, such contractor’s offices have been historically allowed as home occupations conditioned upon there being no storage of materials or equipment on the site.   The reality is, however, most of these businesses do involve equipment or materials and many of these home occupations evolve into zoning violations when the amount of materials, equipment or activity becomes disruptive to neighbors.  

The proposed Ordinance clarifies the provisions related to home contractors and should allow improved administration by staff.  A contractor’s office continues to be allowed as a home occupation, and authorizes some very limited inside storage of materials or equipment on site.  Therefore, someone could run a lawn service from their home so long as they store the lawn equipment or trailer carrying such equipment inside each night. As there are limits to the area that can be devoted to such storage (25% of any building; maximum 1000 square feet), this language should clarify the extent to which such businesses are allowed by-right.   The proposed language of the Ordinance continues to allow a small contracting business on a larger scale in the rural districts, and for homes located in certain commercial and industrial districts; such larger scale use requires special permit approval and is subject to certain conditions.

A Note on Family Day Care Homes

The current regulations allow a day-care home with up to five children as a home occupation, requiring approval of a zoning/administrative permit.  The Code of Virginia (Section 15.2 2292) actually specifically precludes the County from requiring any permit for such a use.  Therefore, the use is being eliminated from the list of authorized home occupations, but is added as an accessory residential use in Section 6-102.  The text change does not impact the existing ability to have such day-care homes.


Identify any other Departments, Organizations or Individuals that would be affected by this request:

Department of Economic Development

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