Home-based businesses in the Elk Valley may soon be operating under new regulations. The Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) is working to revise the home-based business zoning and land use bylaws in an effort to recognise and benefit small businesses currently operating in rural areas.
Area A Director, Mike Sosnowski, attended a City of Fernie council meeting on Tuesday, November 13, to ask for mayor and council’s support of the bylaw amendment process as it moves forward.
“There is quite a few small businesses that are operating basically illegally and I was worried that they were going to get shut down,” said Sosnowski. “Because our bylaw enforcement is complaint driven, at any time, one of these businesses that have been operating, somebody could make a complaint, and that bylaw officer is going to issue a cease and desist.”
The current bylaws put restrictions on all home-based businesses that influence how they may operate, no matter the size of the property they reside on. The proposed regulations would split home-based business into two categories, minor and major, in consideration of the ability of larger rural land parcels, to allow for a wider range of opportunities.
“The way this bylaw is designed, with the restrictions for number of employees, number of parking spots, size of the area that can be used, if somebody starts a business and it’s going to grow, they have to get out of there,” explained Sosnowski. “Where are they going? They have to come town.
“So you look at it as an incubator for small businesses. If a small business can start at home, it will get bigger.”
Following Sosnowski’s explanation of the possible changes, mayor and council weighed in how they felt the bylaw would affect local businesses. One of the major concerns was that the new regulations would take away a neighbour’s right to dispute living next door to a business.
“What I am most concerned about here is the fact that this allows an undefined number of uses on properties,” said Councillor Randal Macnair. “We have had situations in this valley where a neighbour has expressed great concern over uses. The rezoning of development permits have been applied for, and the neighbours have said no, this isn’t what we bought into.”
He added, “I think that we really have to respect the concerns of those neighbours and I don’t think that this goes far enough to do so.”
Councillor Willard Ripley expressed that the rights of an individual who has purchased property to start a business are just as valid as the rights of someone who has bought a property purely for residential purposes.
“Someone’s out there, they’ve got a rural setting, and they want to start a business. They come up with a bright idea, maybe they’ve been laid off, who knows what their circumstances are,” said Ripley. “They come up with a great idea to start a business and they start to build that business up. I think that having regulations or bylaws that support them in that growth is a good idea.”
While further discussion followed, in the end, council voted unanimously to support the RDEK’s efforts to revise the home-based business regulations. The process is still ongoing, however should the bylaw amendments come to fruition, Sosnowski believes they would not only legitimize businesses running under the radar, but also provide economic and social benefits to the communities they are operating within.
“I think it’s good for my residents, and I think it’s good for everybody around to create wealth,” stated Sosnowski. “If it’s made on the outside of city limits, it will be spent on the inside of city limits.”