With multi-level marketing operations and small businesses growing at a high speed, Halifax Town Council and Halifax Planning Commission members found out at their Wednesday meeting the town may have some catching up to do.
It seems some of the town’s ordinances aren’t conducive to all 21st century business practices that often revolve around high-speed internet, social media and online sales.
This realization resulted in denial of Erin Shaughnessy’s special use permit application to operate as a LuLaRoe consultant from her Halifax home at 615 Mountain Road.
As a LuLaRoe consultant, Shaughnessy previously sold the clothing out of her Vernon Hill home and at the Halifax Farmers Market, but now that she’s moved into the town of Halifax on Mountain Road, she’s in need of a special use permit.
However, according to the way the current zoning ordinance is written, council members had no choice but to turn her down Wednesday evening, which means she can no longer sell LuLaRoe clothing the same way she had been in the past.
Shaughnessy had applied for a special use permit to allow a home occupation business in a R-1 residential zone.
The definition of home occupation says that a business could be allowed if “no person not a resident on the premises is employed, no stock is kept or commodities sold, no mechanical equipment is used except such that is normally used for purely domestic or household purposes, no advertising sign is displayed, and there is no exterior evidence that the building is being used for any purpose other than a dwelling, and there is no motor vehicle regularly operated from the premises that carries advertising.”
While Shaughnessy explained to council and the Halifax Planning Commission that most of her business is conducted online, she does keep some stock, hosts two-hour open houses occasionally and has a mobile boutique, which has a LuLaRoe logo on one side, that she often uses at the farmers market.
According to Shaughnessy, her stock is usually in one or two boxes shipped from the LulaRoe warehouse.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” she added.
Regardless of the quantity, planning commission chairman Ron Reiter said because the business is “in violation of the current ordinance, I see nothing we can do but recommend denial.”
Following their recommendation, council member Mike Trent suggested the commission look at the ordinance to see if any changes should be made.
“She very well could’ve kept doing what she was doing without any of us knowing, and I applaud Erin for trying to do it the right way,” said Trent, who pointed out the adjacent landowners are OK with it.
Council member Bill Confroy was quick to point out violating the zoning ordinance could lead to a misdemeanor arrest.
While the landowners may have been fine with operating out of her home, he made the argument her operating a retail business also affects other businesses in town.
“I wish she could set up something in town. At the present time, I agree with the planning commission,” said Confroy.
But, Shaughnessy said the LuLaRoe business model does not allow her to have a storefront with 9 to 5 hours.
“I have four kids. I cannot have a full-time job,” she added.
In efforts to not discourage business owners, council members Gail Bosiger suggested the commission look at sample zoning ordinances provided by Halifax Town Attorney Russell Slayton Jr. to see if the town’s ordinance could be adjusted so that Shaughnessy could operate her sales.
Attorney Slayton provided the city of Roanoke’s definition of “home occupation” as an example, and Halifax town manager Carl Espy said they plan to review others.
In the city of Roanoke’s definition of home occupation, Espy pointed out a specific purpose listed that he saw as a positive: “allow residents of the community to use their residences as places to enhance or fulfill personal economic goals under certain specified standards, conditions and criteria.”
He also encourages small business owners to research zoning ordinances before moving.
If the planning commission decides to make changes to the zoning ordinance, it would be published for all residential areas to see, and public hearings would be held before changes are officially made.
Trent asked if they had to take action on Shaughnessy’s special use permit on Wednesday, and Mayor Dexter Gilliam said they did.
With that, they reluctantly denied her request and tasked the planning commission with reviewing the current zoning ordinance for possible changes.
She told council she understood they had to do what they had to do.