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Ann Arbor Home Occupation Regulations

What kind of businesses are you allowed to run out of your Ann Arbor home?

Part of the answer is in section 5.16.6.H.1 of Ann Arbor's zoning ordinances; see p. 51 of this document, or these home occupation guidelines.

The ordinance is old, and it seems a good time to revisit it now that so many of us are working at home; so planning staff has proposed some revisions; they'll be discussed at the next planning commission meeting April 20, at 7pm.

Follow the link for agenda item 8-b, then the "related files" link to get to the most interesting stuff:

In particular, the new text says "the following uses are not permitted as home occupations":

  • Medical/dental office
  • Motor vehicle and engine repair
  • Furniture refinishing
  • Gymnastic facilities
  • Recording studios
  • Outdoor recreation activities
  • Medical/cosmetic facilities for animals, including animal care or boarding facilities
  • Machine shop/metal working
  • Retail sales
  • Commercial food preparation
  • Mortuaries
  • Medical procedures
  • Body piercing and/or painting, tattoos, or any type of physical therapy

This affects uses in residential zones. So, if you're wondering what would be allowed at a given property, you can look up the address on the city zoning map; residential zones begin with "R" (R1a, R2, etc.).

Planning commission will discuss this, then either turn it down or recommend it to city council. Then before it becomes law it will need to have a first and second reading at city council. It will probably change between now and then. Ways you can express your opinion:

  • Email planning staff at and also request that they pass along your message to planning commission.
  • Email city council at
  • Email your specific council people; see here for ward map and list of council people.

You can also call in to speak at any of these meetings. Some planning ahead is required, especially for council. You get three minutes. It may also be worth coordinating with other people to make sure that all your points are covered even if not everyone is able to speak.

Though this wasn't on the agenda for Monday's special meeting of the planning commission, several people called in mainly to object to the "Machine Shop/metal working" prohibition; see the meeting video.

I haven't looked at it closely yet, and I'm not expert on any of this, but here's my knee-jerk reaction: some of the changes actually look OK, but I don't like the list of prohibited occupations. I object to several individual items on that list, but I'm also skeptical of the need for such a list at all. The prohibition against music studios, for example, is probably based on the potential for noise; but the ordinance already requires of home occupations that "No generation of dust, odors, noise, vibration, or electrical interference or fluctuation shall be perceptible beyond the property line." Why not leave it at that?

I'm also curious about some of those "performance standards". Do we really need the floor area limitation? "Electronically amplified sounds shall not be audible from adjacent properties or public streets": why isn't this already covered by the "no generation of dust, odors, noise, vibration..." rule above? And is it really reasonable to require absolutely *no* noise ever? Why is that "Cottage Foods Occupations must be located in principal residence", and not an ADU?

Under "prohibited home occupations" there's a catch-all "Any other use not allowed in accordance with 5.16.6.H.5 Performance Standards". Why not also allow any home occupation that isn't specifically enumerated, but that meets the performance standards?

The new language is more liberal in some ways, too, which I think are good; allowable visits are increased by a couple a day, and parking requirements removed (though with a new limit on the number of simultaneous visitors).

I hope the end result is to make things better for people working at home. I think that's staff's intention, despite some of the problems.

Talking to some people that have tried a variety of home occupations might be useful.

Also of possible interest: