Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Another cautionary tale: Zoning, home occupations, and that mythical City of Key West.


Talk of changing a city’s Zoning Code can rattle neighborhoods, homeowners, and the business community like few other things can. It has to be done very carefully and with as much community input and education as possible.

Remember: A “minor zoning adjustment” isn’t always so minor when it happens next door.

Below is a cautionary tale — how not to go about changing zoning in a city, any city — not just here in the City of Lake Worth.


The “Official Zoning Map” for the City of Lake Worth:
Use this link to the City’s website for Planning & Zoning, Land Development Regulations, helpful links, contact information and much more.

Below is a cautionary tale about zoning. . . and when all hell broke loose three years ago.

Despite the City Commission’s hard work in recent years to tighten zoning ordinances, there was and remains in this City public concern over the talk of expanding the definition and allowing more types of home occupations (what some call ‘upzoning’, which confuses the issue even more), especially as it relates to residential property values, increased traffic, and what role code enforcement would have in all this, to name just a few concerns.

A group called the Lake Worth Artist and Cottage Entrepreneurs (ACE) had been promoting the expansion of home occupations and I met with them in 2015. You can read about that using this link. What I found interesting about ACE was their goal of engaging the public by beginning a community-wide discussion about changing the zoning to attract more artists to this City.

But for some reason that never happened and that’s exactly why ‘all hell broke loose’ a few months later. Instead of engaging the public what they did instead was try to gain political support through various back channels but not in a very public way with community involvement.

And added to that was the confusion that was created by comparisons way out of scale to such a small city like this City of Lake Worth. For example, when Chris McVoy, PhD (a former District 2 commissioner who went on to lose his re-election bid last March) cited Portland, Oregon and other large cities as examples to emulate that just muddled the issue even further.

Then there’s always that special place — the mecca for artists working out of their homes, the beacon on the hill and shining example for home occupation proponents everywhere — Key West.

Just one problem. It’s not true.

It is easy to get carried away with what you think a situation may be in another city. The viewpoint you hold may be influenced by anecdotal evidence, word of mouth, tourism advertising, etc. There seemed to be the expectation that Key West would be a thriving home to people working out of their homes in sort of an artists’ Garden of Eden.

Well, I checked their code and Key West is as strict or moreso than Lake Worth’s when it comes to home occupations in residential districts. So the image that some had and some still have of Key West’s residential ‘progressive’ artsy mystique was a myth.

It’s also easy to not know what is zoned residential and what is commercial if you are just visiting a town and you don’t have a zoning map with you.

How many people carry zoning maps
around with them?

There were other possible examples around the nation that could have served as models for home occupations, places more in scale and layout to Lake Worth. But I cautioned everyone back then to not get carried away with romantic notions that may not actually be based in reality. I know that can be a challenge here in the charming little City of Lake Worth.

Another former Lake Worth commissioner, Ryan Maier, was one of those proponents of expanding home occupations in this City. However, prior to being elected in 2015 he had much concern for traffic and congestion in his own neighborhood.

How one squares expanding the zoning code to allow more artists (one example) to work out of their homes, having deliveries made, clients visit, and possibly adding employees (without additional parking) didn’t make any sense coming from someone who was already worried about congestion and traffic in his neighborhood.

That is what’s called a “disconnect” and why the public became so worried and confused. Zoning, when it’s discussed and debated in a public way, doesn’t have to be confusing.

And talking about zoning, in a very public way, is always the best way to educate and engage the public going forward.