Metro Councilman Mike Jameson has proposed a bill that seems reasonable enough — he wants to update the city’s codes to protect those Nashvillians who are currently illegally, and unwittingly, operating home-based businesses.
Essentially, Metro law allows residents to operate businesses from their houses, but it doesn’t allow patrons or visitors to stop by for business purposes. Thus, home-based piano teachers, architects and others who have clients visit should technically be written up.
“The piano teacher who teaches students in her living room, or the accountant who sees clients in his kitchen, or the photographer who has a home studio where people have to come because he needs to take their picture — all of them are illegal and they don’t have a clue that they’re illegal,” Jameson said.
Jameson’s ordinance would change the city’s antiquated home occupation code to allow on-site clients upon the business owner’s receiving a special permit. In doing so, it would align Nashville with Tennessee cities like Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga, as well as peer cities like Indianapolis, Charlotte and Louisville, all which have similar policies.
“I can’t think of anybody who wants these businesses to be prohibited,” Jameson said. “Other cities have it, and it seems to have worked well in those other cities.”
Despite Jameson’s good intentions, the ordinance was met with criticism at a public hearing earlier this week. Just one Nashvillian spoke up in favor of the bill at the Tuesday council meeting, while several lined up against it, with concerns over traffic, parking and the sanctity of neighborhoods topping the criticism.
“I think this encourages more businesses, and our neighborhoods to become mixed-use,” said Nancy Chiltan, who lives on Byron Avenue. “We just don need it. We need to keep the traffic down. That’s why we live in neighborhoods.”
Others who voiced opposition to Jameson’s bill were former council members J.B. Loring and John Summers, both unconvinced by Jameson’s point that the practice already exists.
“If people want to live in a neighborhood of commercial, there’s plenty of places,” said Loring, who called the measure a “drastic” step. “There’s thousands of commercial buildings right now, and we certainly don’t need the businesses moving into the neighborhoods.”
Summers, who frequently inserts himself into council debates, called the ordinance “dumb.”
Jameson’s bill would allow only 25 percent of a house to be used for commercial purposes. In addition, the ordinance prohibits physical alterations that would change a home’s residential character, and outlaws uses such as restaurants, tattoo parlors and auto repair shops. But Summers wonders how all this can be enforced.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about enforcement,” Summers said, adding that the Metro Codes Department hasn’t seen an increase in personnel in decades. “There’s a couple of hundred thousand people in this county that are going to get a zone-change, and they don’t really know it.”
Jameson said his bill would actually add restrictions to safeguard homes from commercial activity, adding that home businesses, for example, can currently operate as long as they please. His ordinance would cap operations to normal business hours.
“Whatever the concerns are about how home-based businesses detract from the quality [of neighborhoods] I think are belied by the way this is set up and belied by the experience of other cities,” he said.
On Summers’ criticism specifically, Jameson said he pulled data on the number of businesses operating in zoned-residential areas surrounding Summers’ Wyoming Avenue house that didn’t in fact obtain a home occupancy permit. Jameson said there are 40 within a half-mile. Thus, they’re illegal — whether they’ve had clients visit or not.
“The question is, how many of those have been the subject of complaints to the codes department,” Jameson said. “In other words, if John’s right, clearly these illegal operations would be the subject of multiple codes reports because they’re such anathema to neighborhoods. But I can’t find any.”
For now, the bill has been deferred to make a few revisions and is set to go back before the council on the second of three votes at a later time. In the meantime, Jameson has scheduled a community meeting May 24 at the Howard School building. It begins at 6 p.m.
Jameson points out that 2010 U.S. Census Bureau figures indicate that nearly 13,000 Nashvillians claimed to work at home. But that doesn’t match the 203 home-occupation permits that have been issued in Davidson County.
“We’re clearly not registering with the public,” Jameson said. We’re not capturing the reality of what’s going on.