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Caribou Planning Board to review Home Occupations Ordinance after public feedback

CARIBOU, Maine — Changes to a long-standing Home Occupations Ordinance will once again be open for discussion during an upcoming Caribou Planning Board meeting.

In January, the planning board approved changes to the ordinance that they are hoping will make the application process easier for residents wishing to operate businesses from their homes.

If approved, the ordinance would no longer require home-based entrepreneurs to go through a public hearing with the planning board unless their business requires state licensing. 

Other major revisions include allowing owners to use 50 percent of their homes or 100 percent of an accessory building for their business. The current ordinance allows for 25 percent usage of a home and 50 percent of an accessory building.

But comments made during the Monday, Feb. 28, city council meeting prompted councilors to send the ordinance back to the planning board for further review.

Troy Haney, owner of Haney’s Building Supplies, voiced concerns on rule changes he believed could potentially “micromanage” home-based businesses. He was the only member of the public to speak during a hearing held by the city council.

“A 2-foot sign is quite small to see from any distance,” he said, referring to a rule that permits one non-illuminated sign per business that must be two square feet. 

He also questioned why the ordinance would allow only one non-residential employee per business and limit businesses to two customers per hour and deliveries from vehicles of 23,000 pounds or less. Another rule would limit home occupations to single-family dwellings.

“Who’s going to police that [traffic]? How do you tell the difference between five or six teenagers coming and going and a business car? ” Haney said. 

Haney also expressed worries that too many restrictions could discourage home-based entrepreneurs from starting businesses and possibly moving into a larger space in the city’s downtown.

Planning Board Chairperson Dan Bagley said that most of the ordinance changes were intended to “streamline the process” for starting home-based businesses. Board members envisioned putting businesses into categories of “low impact” or “high impact” depending on licensing requirements and potential impact on neighborhoods.

He clarified that the signage requirements are consistent with those established in the current ordinance. 

By allowing one non-residential employee, the planning board wanted to revise the current rule that does not allow for any employees.

“We debated whether to open up home-based occupations to allow employees. The planning board felt that [allowing employees] was a step in the right direction,” Bagley said. “So we stopped at one to see how that would work out.”

The two-customer limit is also a positive change, Bagley said, since the current ordinance does not allow any street parking. 

Code Enforcement Officer Ken Murchison thanked Haney for his comments and emphasized that future changes to the ordinance will be based on how they might affect entrepreneurs and nearby residents.

“When we’re talking about home-based businesses in residential zones, we have to think about increased traffic or on-street parking and whether a large truck can make a delivery,” Murchison said.

The planning board will discuss potential revisions to the Home Occupations Ordinance at its next meeting Thursday, March 10, at the council chambers at the Caribou Municipal Building, 25 High St.

Proposed revisions to the ordinance are available for viewing on Caribou’s website.

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