Amendments Create Flexibility for Small Businesses During Pandemic
Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6 – Northwest Seattle), Chair of the City’s Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee, together with a 8-1 vote of his Full Council colleagues, passed C.B. 120001 to provide additional economic support for small businesses adversely affected by current land use codes during the pandemic.
Popularly known as “Bringing Business Home, a Small Business Flexibility Bill,” Councilmember Strauss, along with colleagues Council President M. Lorena González and Councilmember Mosqueda, introduced the legislation after hearing from a small business impacted by the current rules in Strauss’ district. Together they co-sponsored legislation to adopt interim regulations to allow businesses greater flexibility to operate out of garages and residences.
The current COVID-19 fueled recession has forced small, independent businesses to find creative solutions to survive. City regulations have not kept up. The changes made by legislation allows small businesses to bring their businesses home. Furthermore, this ordinance is designed to allow small businesses, which may have operated out of a storefront or other commercially-leased location previously, to operate more easily out of a home – employing our neighbors and helping our local economy recover. Home-based businesses are already allowed as long as they meet conditions set by the City. The proposal would modify some of the most restrictive conditions for the next year to allow more businesses to operate out of homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following requirements would be suspended:
- Customer visits are by appointment only
- There is no evidence of the home-based business visible from the exterior of the structure
- No more than two persons who are not residents of the building may work in a home-based business
- The home-based business shall not cause a substantial increase in on-street parking congestion or a substantial increase in traffic within the immediate vicinity
Home-based businesses would also be allowed to operate in a house’s off-street parking stall or garage and have one non-illuminated sign with the business name if it is not larger than 720 square inches, approximately 2 feet by 2 feet.
Earlier this month, Greenwood’s Yonder Bar, a retail-only tasting room, announced it had to close despite widespread neighborhood support after a complaint led the City to find it in violation of the current code.
“Our land use code cannot be the barrier to vibrant neighborhoods and a strong economy,” said Strauss. “It’s essential we meet our businesses where they’re at: whether that’s out of their homes or garages.”
Strauss continued: “We know that many of the most successful businesses in our country were born out of garages. We need to support entrepreneurs, providing them the flexibility to operate out of their garages and grow into vacant storefronts. The Land Use Code wasn’t written with life in a pandemic in mind. This temporary legislation allows us to be responsive to our small businesses and make our neighborhoods more vibrant.”
“I remain committed to revitalizing our neighborhoods and supporting the innovation and creativity of our small businesses, including those that start at home, during this pandemic. The passage of the Bringing Business Home bill allows us to home grow our next innovative business while ensuring those households are able to weather this recession. This legislation is a meaningful step towards addressing barriers to entry, like rent, for many small businesses while maintaining and supporting the funky Seattle flavor in more of our neighborhoods. I am grateful for the support of the vast majority of the City Council who sees the tremendous value of supporting our micro-enterprises,” said Council President M. Lorena González.
“Small businesses have been supporting our community through this pandemic all while thinking creatively and finding new ways of doing business to stay open. Allowing more home-operated small businesses will not only help those owners survive the pandemic, but support our economic recovery in the long run as they expand to brick-and-mortar storefronts with more employees in the future. When more residents have economic stability during this time, it acts as an economic stimulus for the entire local economy as more people with money in their pocket spend it at existing Seattle small businesses and the multiplier effect helps everyone. I’m grateful to Councilmember Strauss and his team for working on solutions to help restore an economy that works for us all,” said Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.
Limitations on business and economic activity disproportionately impact small businesses, which are less likely to have financial reserves to withstand extended periods of closure or limited operations and likely disproportionately impacts small businesses owned by women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs. As an example, Seattle has over 4,000 active business licenses for restaurants, caterers, and other businesses in the food industry; the 2016 Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs estimates that nearly 48 percent of the firms in the accommodation and food services industry in the Seattle metropolitan area are BIPOC-owned.
The legislation is likely to take effect in the next two months.