Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Three Months and $225 Ain't Friendly

I'm going to introduce an article for next spring's Town Meeting to repeal the town bylaws regulating "Dealing in Used Articles," but before I do, I decided to do my homework and make sure it really says what I think it says.

So I sent this question to townclerk@amherstma.gov:
The town bylaws state:

"2. No personal shall engage in the business of buying or selling second-hand articles within the limits of the town of Amherst unless he is duly licensed by the selectmen."

What does "engage in the business of" mean? If I buy and sell used articles out of my house, am I engaging in business? Or does this bylaw apply only to businesses that have public storefronts?
Holy Bureaucracy, Batman! I didn't expect such a simple question to generate a little blizzard of activity from Town Hall!

First stop was Patricia J Olanyk, in the Town Clerk's office. She referred my question to the Select Board's office, and told me that I might also have to file a "Doing Business As" certificate with their office. I don't think that applies to buying and selling stuff on Ebay, although maybe it does-- I don't use my real name as my Ebay nickname. I'm still looking for an answer to "what does 'engage in the business of' mean?", so I press on.

According to Jonathan Tucker in the planning department:
This is a fairly straightforward business licensing, similar to a liquor license, a license to operate coin-operated amusement devices, etc. This is listed as “Second-Hand Sales” on an old 1997 list I have of Select Board licenses and permits. The licensing is, I believe, intended to help prevent unregulated dealing in second-hand articles with an uncertain or illegal origin. From the listing I have, it appears that after receiving a recommendation from the Police Department, the Select Board holds a public hearing to hear from the applicant. Both the Select Board and the Police Dept. must approve the application which, following approval, is signed by the Police Chief or his designee. There’s a $75 fee for the application. There should be copies of the application form and copies of past applications in the Select Board files. I’m sure the Police Department could give you more particulars.
I was also referred to the Zoning department, because conducting a business out of my house might require a Special Permit.

It's a beautiful day today, and I was planning on walking downtown to get my hair cut, so I decided to stop by Town Hall and try to get to the bottom of all this in person. I met with Christine Brestrup (planning department) and Bonnie Weeks (I THINK that's who it was, down in the Zoning department), who were both very nice and patient as they asked me whether I had people come to my house (no), if this would generate extra traffic for the neighborhood (maybe a little, I might make a couple extra trips to the Post Office), and to describe what kind of stuff I was buying and selling on Ebay.

Now, that's kind of personal question. Is it really any of their business what I'm buying and selling? So I asked if there was some threshold in terms of amount of stuff that would make me a "business" subject to regulation.

Apparently there isn't. The consensus was that I need to apply for a Special Permit (cost: $150), explain what I'm up to in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals, and wait the three months it takes to get an answer from them to decide whether or not I'd disturb my neighbors.

Oh, and I'll need that $75 permit for dealing in used articles, no matter what the ZBA decides.

Sigh. I still don't have an answer to my question: "what does 'engage in the business of' mean?", but I've sent a followup question about that to the Zoning/Planning folks. If selling stuff you personally used/owned makes you a business, then wouldn't all these regulations apply to tag sales?

But imagine for a moment that I really DID have an Ebay business-- there are lots of people who buy stuff at tag sales and then resell it on Ebay. Even if we do repeal the silly bylaw about dealing in secondhand articles, doing that would still be illegal in Amherst, unless you go through a process that costs $150, and takes at least three months and several hours of your time.

Isn't that EXACTLY the type of no-impact, knowledge-based, green business that we want in Amherst?

No comments: