Friday, October 09, 2009

Changing the Rules

Back in September, I went before the county Planning Commission to talk about an ordinance change they were proposing.

I had urged county officials to take a look at the county's home occupation ordinance. It had come to my attention through my work with the newspaper that this ordinance essentially made criminals out of folks who were doing eBay or other Internet businesses out of their home.

In other words, it was against the county's ordinances to sell stuff, even online. Even if you never bothered a single person because you carried your stuff to the post office, or better yet, just drop shipped it and never saw the product, you were still breaking the county's law.

About the time I was suggesting to county officials that they change this, a friend applied for a permit to sell over the Internet and was denied. I helped her contact her county supervisor to complain and she set about officially making the request for changes. It is always better if a citizen other than a representative of the press can be involved.

Anyway, it took county officials about five months to review the ordinance and offer up suggested changes. By this time I was no longer writing much for the local paper so I wasn't able to follow the story for my readers. However, being a self-employed business person who works from home I had a keen interest in any changes the county might want to make to this particular ordinance.

Some of the suggested changes did not suit me; they seemed punitive or unfair or unclear, so I wrote up a list of things that I thought were wrong and offered suggestions of my own and trotted off to the public hearing.

A few other folks talked but offered no solutions to their complaints and were vague about what they thought was wrong with the ordinance. My list was fairly long and was, frankly, a reworking of the entire offered document. I offered a solution to every objection. My changes were so many that the Planning Commission took no action but instead scheduled a work session on my proposed changes. They met two nights later.

The planning staff offered up a new version of the document at the work session. This one addressed just about every issue and concern I had raised, either by changing wording, clarifying, or eliminating various sentences.

In particular, the section about Internet business was stronger and more clear, as was a section on allowed personal services (such as, say, a beauty parlor or a tutor or dare I say, a writer?). At least now a person could sell on eBay without being convicted of a misdemeanor if caught. Although that person needs to have a home occupation permit and a business per county ordinances if they are to be legal.

The Planning Commission approved this document, and it went to a second public hearing before the Board of Supervisors a few day later. It passed without much ado and no additional changes.

Which goes to show, one person can indeed have an impact and an influence on important things.


  1. I admire you for taking it on. That sounds complicated and time consuming! I can't imagine not being able to sell on ebay from my own home. Thank you for your hard work!

  2. Wow, is Botetourt County behind the times or what?? Country folk sure are ridiculous sometimes and slow to act, (except for you) Do they fear the internet?? To sell on Ebay was against the law? *falls over and faints* Oh, and laughing at them too.

    Was illegal too?
    Was illegal too?

    How behind the times can a county be???


  3. Let me be clear: you have to have a license and a permit to sell stuff from the Internet in my county even with the changes that recently passed. This isn't a rural thing. This is in most localities. A lot of places don't allow Internet selling at all; just because you're not caught doesn't make it legal.

    Roanoke City and County have similar ordinances and require permits and licensing, too. I've been told that most localities have ordinances that police this kind of thing. In fact, it is the more rural areas that are less likely to have such ordinances.

    This does not mean you can't sell Aunt Ida's lamp once in a while on eBay or on Craigslist; mostly they are after folks who are doing this for a living. If you post something for sell with any frequency you probably need to call the planning and zoning office.

    That means if you're doing etsy or craigslist with any consistency and doing it strictly to make money, then a permit and license is required under the county code.

    I have my licenses and pay those business licensing taxes every year to the county as a freelancer. Other folks who do wood crafts, painting, etc. and sell from home do too.

  4. Thanks for proving how one person can make a difference.

  5. Yay for you, Anita. I'm so impressed that you went in with specific solutions to problems with their ordinance. I'm sure they appreciated that, too, because it made their job a lot easier. Good work!

  6. You are right. It's not a country thing. It's one of the reasons we got out of New Jersey because you almost need a permit to breathe up there. I hate to see the country areas following suit. Really, what is it their business if someone is selling on eBay? Or writing? It's government intrusion and another way to wring a few more bucks out of us. Good for you for at least getting them to make some changes. This kind of thing is really what we should be having tea parties about!


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