It is perfectly reasonable for land-use and zoning regulations to take into consideration any “nuisances” that would reduce the quality of life or present a potential safety hazard to the area. However, this frequent justification can turn into a camel’s nose that allows local officials to restrict all sorts of economic activity, like home businesses. See the case of Chandler, Arizona’s Kim O’Neil, about whom C. Jarrett Dieterle and Shoshana Weissmann of the R Street Institute write:
For years she [ran her medical-billing company] out of leased office space, but when Ms. O’Neil’s father became ill in 2013 she moved the business to her home. After her father died in 2015, she continued to run the business out of her house, because she could fulfill her work obligations while caring for her elderly mother.
In the summer of 2016, Ms. O’Neil received a letter from the city of Chandler informing her that she was illegally operating a home-based business. She needed to apply for a permit within seven days or face action from the city government.
Chandler then insisted she jump through regulatory hoops that seem onerous even for a more traditional business location.
They [city officials] told Ms. O’Neil that her three employees were not allowed to work on-site, though they parked in her driveway and didn’t cause traffic concerns. Eventually, in an attempt to appease city officials, Ms. O’Neil instructed her employees to work from their own residences rather than her home.
City officials were still unmoved. They informed Ms. O’Neil that she would have to build a parking facility, submit architectural drawings of her home, and obtain approval from every neighbor within 600 feet. Doing so would have been expensive, but that wasn’t all. The city even suggested Ms. O’Neil might have to attend monthly meetings with city officials.
Ultimately, O’Neil shut down her business, calling the ordeal “one of the most stressful experiences of my life.”
Unfortunately, O’Neil’s case is hardly unique: .
Officials in Cobb County, Ga., temporarily shut down a videogame blogger whose primary business activity was uploading YouTube videos from his house. A record producer in Nashville, Tenn., who ran a recording studio out of his garage received a cease-and-desist letter from the city, though none of his neighbors had complained. Phoenix refused to grant a permit to a yoga instructor who hoped to teach small classes at her house.
Instead resolving genuine nuisances, zoning regulations are being used to stifle productivity and economic opportunity with no clear justification.