Where is the line between a residence and a business? On Wednesday, the Planning Board took another look at that question, which was tabled indefinitely last fall at Town Meeting.
Under Chelmsford’s current zoning bylaws, business people operating out of residentially zoned properties may not have clients or customers on their premises, although the board noted that often this rule had been ignored.
And while the board indicated that many of these violations did not threaten the character of a neighborhood, memories of a nail salon in the Westlands a few years ago near Market Basket and Stedman Street that created unusually high traffic flows still lingered.
Precinct 6 Town Meeting Representative and Stedman Street resident Ken Skelley talked to the board on proposed possible amendments to a possible home occupation bylaw for home businesses in the Westlands and elsewhere in town, saying that lower volume business operations like one-on-one piano classes or private law practices would be acceptable under the spirit of a what would be intended by a bylaw.
“To me, (high volume businesses are not) the way people want their neighborhoods,” said Skelley. “The people that go down that street are the people you know and maybe the mailman, but not a couple dozen strangers going up and down your road. I’m not for that.”
His view was one of many on the board and residents in attendance that varied significantly over issues such as how many clients could potentially go into a home business in a time period, what time periods they could operate, or whether they could accept clients at all.
Precinct 7 Town Meeting Representative Mary Tiano shared the view that any kind of business in residential areas should be prohibited, citing the example of the nail salon.
“I’m lucky that I didn’t have that situation in my neighborhood, but I remember when the Stedman Street situation happened and they were lucky to pull together,” she said. “Opening any doors or any leeway, we know what happens. Keep it closed. If a business owner wants to change the zoning for their property, the onus is on them, not the neighborhood.”
At the other extreme, Planning Board member Susan Carter hoped a potential bylaw could help home businesses that are currently underground come onto the radar of town authorities without undue regulations while also preventing businesses that would damage the character of a neighborhood.
“I guess I would stick up for the small business person, if you had a hair dresser out on maternity leave and had a couple of clients who she wanted to do her hair for, going through the process and expense of the ZBA is make them not even going bother trying or you could encourage more illegal home occupations like we have,” said Carter. “I think smaller threshold acknowledges that people have some businesses. A few cars a day is no different than having friends over or having a play group at your house.”
The discussion was continued to the board’s first meeting in February, pending additional information on businesses in town as well as required discussion needed to craft possible solutions to choose between for the various parts of the possible bylaw.