Aldermen criticize home business fee plan

A proposal to require owners of small, home-based businesses to register with the city and pay a fee has been sent for more study to Evanston's Economic Development Committee.

The registration plan, advanced by Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, drew criticism from other aldermen at the Planning and Development Committee meeting Monday night.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the businesses that some of Holmes' constituents complained about — an auto repair shop operating from a residental garage, a car wash being run in an alley, and a tax preparation service with several seasonal employees — are all illegal under the city's existing rules.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, added that businesses that truly disturb the neighborhood are unlikely to comply with a registration rule anyway.

Making artists studios or other businesses that don't disturb a residential neighorhood register with the city would add an additional administrative burden on city staff without doing anything to solve the problem, he said, and it would send a negative message about the city's support for local businesses.

"A lot of people I've talked to feel like they're being punished here for what a few bad guys are doing out there," Wilson added.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she's concerned about how a home-based business would be defined.

"If it's somebody taking up the hem of a dress a few times a week, that's different from somebody bringing in a half-dozen clients a day," Fiske said.

She said she thought such an ordinance would not be received well and would invite a lot of criticism for the city.

"We're in an economy where a lot of people have lost their jobs and are trying to make a go of it with a home business. I don't think this sends the right message," Fiske added.

All three suggested the city should put its efforts into going after "the bad guys" rather than imposing a new registration requirement on all home-based businesses.

Holmes said she didn't intend the registration requirement to be a punishment.

"The city ought to know what businesses are located in the city. It's part of us being good stewards," Holmes said.

But Rainey said that with current staffing the city isn't even able to fully enforce rules that require storefront businesses to have licenses.

"The first three businesses on Chicago Avenue north of Howard Street don't have licenses, and they're operating in stores," Rainey said.

The home-based business licensing proposal is scheduled to return to the Planning and Development Committee.

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