Dunwoody mulls improvements for home business permits

When Heather Chlup and her husband, Paul, bought their Dunwoody home in January, she saw an immediate use for the room over the garage: It was the perfect place for her to resume teaching the violin, something she hadn’t done since leaving Australia in 2008.

She wasn't aware the process would involve a special land-use permit from the city, public hearings and five months just to pass the first step of the permit process.

Council members and Chlup now say this has to change.

“We need to make it easier, not harder, for people to start home-based businesses,” Councilman Danny Ross said. “Mrs. Chlup was our first permit like this, so we followed the guidelines we had, but will it always be this way? I’d say no.”

The ordinance that governs home-based businesses in Dunwoody currently prohibits “customer contact” in a residence. Chlup had to apply for a special land-use permit to legally allow clients in her home. The city council eventually discussed her hours of operation, which Chlup thought was excessive.

“I got the feeling that they were experimenting with me a little too much,” she said. “I know I was the first, but I just don’t think it should have been this difficult.”

Chlup spent $700 in her efforts to obtain the permit, shelling out for postage for letter to neighbors, babysitter fees and city administrative costs.

Requirements for home-based businesses in other metro Atlanta cities vary significantly. Alpharetta doesn't require a special permit for clients to enter such a business, but limits the daily, non-residential trips to it. Doraville has an ordinance much like Dunwoody’s that says a home business must be Internet-based and have no customer contact unless it has a special permit.

Last week, Chlup’s neighbors stopped by to congratulate her and see the newly decorated room over the garage that has achieved notoriety since the big red sign advertising a July public hearing was planted in her front yard.

“I can’t imagine they’re not going to look at this process,” Adrienne Duncan, one of Chlup's neighbors, said of the city council. “The way this all happened, this is not how you take care of a neighborhood.”

Ross, the councilman, agrees with that assessment, though he stands by the city’s process.

“I think we did what we needed to do, based on the current ordinance,” he said. “But we’ve got to find some way for people to get from start to finish a lot faster.”

City officials hope to refine the process so other home-based businesses in Dunwoody will get the proper permits.

“We want to be a business-friendly city,” Ross said. “We need to make the process smoother so these other entrepreneurs in Dunwoody will want to comply.”

Chlup hopes to start giving lessons a few weeks into the school year, provided the rest of the process moves along quickly.

"I'm looking forward to teaching," she said. "That was the whole point."