Is our local rural zoning unusually restrictive?

austinb82

LawnSite Member
Location
Portland, OR
Hi everyone, I own a small design and build landscaping company. The company started as a maintenance company out of my home. Once we grew to 3 employees and were dispatching an additional crew that I was not working on one of our neighbors reported us for running a business that did not comply with zoning (no dispatching from a home business in city limits) despite the fact that we had one of the best kept homes in the neighborhood. Luckily we found a very affordable commercial space less than a mile away although it was tough having to pay an extra expense going into the winter. We continued to grow and within a year we were at max capacity in the commercial space with no room for more trucks and 6 employees. Unfortunately because our space was so cheap a bigger commercial space was probably going to be over triple the rent and a longer commute so we had to curb our growth for a year and we worked on improving business processes and dropped maintenance and focused on installations which are billed and a higher rate instead of growth to bring in more income.

The time has come to try to grow again but we can't afford to continue to pay rent for our home and triple our commercial space rent. So our solution was to move to a rural property outside the city (which is something I wanted anyway) because we could pay roughly the same for a mortgage than what we currently pay for rent at home and for our current commercial space.

We didn't want to end up in a situation where we purchased a home only to find out we couldn't run a business from it and get reported so we have done a lot of research with the county we plan on running the business. Unfortunately it is much more complicated that we had originally hoped. The only way to run the business with very few restrictions is to operate from Agricultural zoned land which is usually larger properties which are out of our budget and often do not even have a residence and require a commercial loan so it is probably not a feasible option for us. The other option would be a multi-use rural zoning which is usually 2-5 acre lots which is perfect for us and they usually have a residence and out buildings. This zoning is intended for residential use but also allows farm use with few restrictions.

Unfortunately the county considers landscaping a service business and even though it is related to agriculture it would need to be classified as a home business occupancy which has many restrictions. It limits us to 30 vehicle trips and 5 business trucks which is fine because we don't want to get much bigger but the biggest limitation is we cannot have more than 5 employees on the property at the same time including ourselves. We think we have found a way to re-structure the business to fit within this limit.

So when we found a potential property we looked at the home occupancy permit form which stated that the home occupancy permit approval process takes up to 15 weeks and has an $845 fee regardless of if it is accepted or not. This makes it very difficult to commit to a property and no seller in this good housing market is going to want to wait 15 weeks to close pending an approved permit, they are going to move on to the next bidder. Its really frustrating because there are a lot of other businesses operating (and the county knows this) without a permit and here we are trying to work within the system without a good way to actually do it without taking a huge risk of purchasing a house and then potentially needing to rent a commercial space anyway.

Has anyone else dealt with similar zoning issues when trying to move the business to a rural property? I'm just trying to find out if our local zoning is unusually restrictive compared to the rest of the country or if this sounds like typical rural zoning rules. Its really disappointing because I feel the local government should be supportive of small business but instead it makes it very difficult to run a profitable small business and favors big business which has no problem paying the high price of commercial real estate.
 

tbone1471

LawnSite Member
We went through something very similar. Had a great spot priced right and the township came after us. This was hilarious as we were donating material and equipment to them. Eventually it came down to a township supervisor didn't like us.... our lawyer was informed by theirs that we were going to prosecuted anywhere we went in the township....

In turn we pulled all our equipment and material. We will not take any work in the township or spend any money there. Unless it's state work where we can tell them where to go...

It was really bad timing and the money we spent trying to prove we were right... we were the longest standing property owner in the area. (My family had owned property there since the 1800's).

Long story short we had to rent a property for a tremendous amount of money (outside of the township). It was difficult at first but we doubled our gross based on our new location during the second year there. Of course we have issues there with neighbors as well (we are zoned heavy industry so figure that out...)

I have a folder full of misappropriations by the township that were discovered in right to know requests I have been saving for leverage when I need it.
 

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