To the editor: Home occupation and home business

As the recording secretary for the Chester Planning Commission, my job requires me to pay careful attention to what is said at the meetings, so that I can summarize the discussion in writing. The meetings are taped, and I can replay something as much as I need to.

Frequently, as I work with the recording of the meeting, I find myself wishing I could have said something at the time to clear up a misunderstanding. I feel that people who care enough to come to a meeting on a week night deserve information and support. At the last Planning Commission meeting on Monday, June 17, I heard many people not quite understanding the concept of home occupation, which is key to understanding at least one part of zoning in Vermont.

Home Occupation is protected by Vermont Statute. The statute is in Chapter 24. § 4412 (You can find it by clicking here):  It says, “(4) Protection of home occupations. No bylaw may infringe upon the right of any resident to use a minor portion of a dwelling unit for an occupation that is customary in residential areas and that does not have an undue adverse effect upon the character of the residential area in which the dwelling is located.”
Chester’s current bylaws, which can be found here, have similar language:

“3.11 HOME OCCUPATION – No regulation herein shall infringe upon the right of any resident to use a minor portion of a dwelling for an occupation which is customary in residential areas and which does not have an undue adverse effect on the character of the neighborhood. The primary use of the premises shall be that of a private residence, and the home occupation shall be carried on in the residence or in a typical accessory building. Disturbances such as noise, vibration, smoke, dust, odors, heat, glare, and electrical interference or line voltage variations shall not be produced. On‑street parking is not permitted, nor shall the exterior of the building be altered to take on a commercial aspect. The above limitations shall not apply to agricultural uses. Home occupations are allowed as permitted; accessory uses in all districts where residential uses are permitted.”

Notice that the actual type of occupation is only limited by the words “which is customary in residential areas and which does not have an undue adverse effect on the character of the neighborhood.” So, if I were able to use a saw and drill (I can’t, don’t worry) I could build picnic tables in my basement, and set them out on the lawn with a “For Sale” sign. As long as the tools weren’t loud enough to disturb the neighbors, I’m just doing a home occupation, my right to which is guaranteed by the state of Vermont and supported by the Chester bylaws. If I wanted to make doll clothes to sell at Christmas or knit sweaters, I could also do that at my home. I probably couldn’t run a rock crusher in the back yard. It would be too loud and dusty. Even though my home is an apartment, I am still allowed to have a home occupation in my rented space.

If any of those projects became a commercial success and I wanted more space and help, I could move into the barn and actually hire up to 4 non-family members to work for me. I would have t to obtain a permit for a home business from our Zoning Administrator. Chester’s bylaws define home business this way. “HOME BUSINESS: Any small business carried on by family members in a minor portion of the dwelling or in an accessory building, with no more than four (4) on premise employees who are not part of the family in accordance with Section 3.12 of these Bylaws” Here is the text of Section 3.12:

“3.12 HOME BUSINESS – No regulation herein shall infringe upon the right of any resident to use a minor portion of a dwelling for a Home Business which is customary in residential areas and which does not have an undue adverse effect on the character of the neighborhood. The Home Business shall be carried on by members of the family in a minor portion of the dwelling or in an accessory building. Four (4) full time equivalent on-premise employees who are not part of the family are permitted. Disturbances such as noise, vibration, smoke, dust, odors, heat, glare, and electrical interference or line voltage variations shall not be produced at a level which is seriously objectionable or out of character with the neighborhood.

Home Business is allowed as an accessory use, subject to conditional use review, in all districts where residential uses are permitted subject to the following provisions:

  1. The home business shall be clearly incidental and secondary to the residential use of the property, and shall be conducted wholly within the principal or accessory structures;
  2. The home business shall be carried on by members of the family residing in the dwelling unit. Four additional full-time equivalent employees who are not members of the family are permitted;
  3. No traffic shall be generated which would be uncharacteristic of the neighborhood;
  4. Exterior displays, exterior storage of materials, and exterior indications of the home business or variation from the residential character of the principal or accessory structures may be prohibited. (See Section 3.26 for home business/industry sign standards.)”

I hope this helps people understand the concept of Home Occupation and Home Business. These two activities are almost universally available to residents of Vermont and the proposed bylaws do not in any way attempt to abridge those rights.

More than one citizen at the meeting Monday night said the bylaws were too hard to understand. I agree that you can’t simply glance at them and know what you need to do to start a business. I hope people can consider how complex a function the bylaws fulfill, and make an allowance for that. I know the zoning administrator is always ready to help. Please bring your questions with you to the Saturday, June 22 workshop from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 556 Elm St., or to the Planning Commission meetings which generally take place at 7 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month. Your input has already been very helpful.


Cathy Hasbrouck
Recording secretary
Chester Planning Commission

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: CommentaryLetters to the Editor

About the Author:

RSSComments (4)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Randy Miles says:

    I find myself at a loss here? Chester just did the zoning by laws in 2017? In that time frame there were many new proposals that met with push back from business and property owners of our town! At the end of over a year of debate our town voted upon the new 2017 by laws with some understanding of TWEAKING a couple. Now we have the All New 2019 by laws with major changes in just about every district? We the people (taxpayers) from what I see are having our value and rights stripped away. As well as telling us that new growth in our town is slipping away! Weather it be home owners or business it does not seam welcome here? I bought my property in Chester to use now and in the future. It is the # one thing we as people own and able to make money on or leave to our children. We are being taxed and future options and use are being stripped away? I love this town as much as anyone but if we close our doors and make it impossible to grow our town what will happen? Who will pay for all the increases of our schools and town water,sewage, town roads and so on? We as Vermonters will still have to go out of state to buy our goods?(WHY) The state of Vermont population and our town has been the same for a long time. So why are we against small business and letting property owners who pay a lot in taxes every year lose the ability of future value and options? Our family did not move to Chester because it wanted to be in a town that wants to go to sleep! We chose Chester because it had a lot to offer as a home owner and business owner. It had good schools but sorry to say the ratings are dropping and kids are leaving for other schools or home schooling. We need people to come to Chester to live and start business. This will help our town grow and function better.People please look at past zoning and new purposed zoning and get involved with the future of Chester before it is too late. Don’t wait till some day you want to do something here with your land and find out you cant do that? And say how did that happen? thank you

  2. Robert Nied says:

    To Michele’s point, zoning changes can potentially have enormous impacts on residents as well as on the character and value of their properties. The proposal to change areas that have been exclusively residential to Village 4 does not, for example, serve the interest of the community and does not preserve the community character, as articulated in the Town Plan.

    Zoning should reinforce and support the historically commercial downtown areas (so as to discourage sprawl and underscore the downtown as a vibrant, walkable destination.) It makes little sense to upend long-standing residential neighborhoods when there are multiple, viable commercial spaces available in historically commercial areas sitting vacant. At the same time zoning should be more welcoming to home businesses which can be operated without altering the character of residential neighborhoods and not drawing retail, hospitality and service businesses away from the downtown areas.

    While residential districts can likely absorb a consulting practice, insurance business or doctor’s office, they can not absorb motels, auto repair shops or tattoo parlors without losing their essential character, desirability and property values. Such a forced transition is neither a smart choice for the community or the existing property owners. Zoning should be created based on the unique context, history and carefully considered actual growth pattern data of a particular town, not on boiler plate recommendations to expand or contract one district or another because that is what other towns may or may not be doing or because it “should” work in principle.

  3. Barry F Fowler says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this information down and do a super job of explaining it all, including the differences. Often the laws and bylaws are not written for the common reader to simply read and digest. Just a note of thanks from me…..a guy who can saw and drill yet doesn’t have a home business.

  4. Michele Bargfrede says:

    I truly appreciate Cathy taking the time to write this letter. I was one of the people who spoke on this issue. New proposed zoning changes the status of our property from village (residential and commercial) to residential only. This creates a lot of X boxes (no longer allowed.) It is very unclear because many of these can overlap a small, home business. It is frustrating to purchase a property with future uses in mind and potentially have that taken away. Thank you again Cathy for your time and insight.