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Home-based business must change

A home-based West Fargo eyewear business has been given two years to find a new storefront. City commissioners on Monday unanimously denied Marvin and Joan Hamm's application for a special permit to continue operating Priced Right Optical from th...

A home-based West Fargo eyewear business has been given two years to find a new storefront.

City commissioners on Monday unanimously denied Marvin and Joan Hamm's application for a special permit to continue operating Priced Right Optical from their home basement.

That leaves the Hamms with 24 months to dismantle their business or come up with an alternative that won't bring extra traffic to the neighborhood.

Customers have been buying glasses at the Hamms' residence at 627 7th Ave. W. for 17 years, but the Hamms had to apply for a conditional use permit this year after neighbors complained about traffic and parking.

While going over the Hamms' application, the West Fargo Planning Department discovered that both the property and the home business violated city ordinances.

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Specifically, the department found that the business takes up the equivalent of 57 percent of the main floor area. West Fargo allows a home-based business to cover 25 percent.

In addition, the Hamms should have five off-street parking spaces for the business and two more for the home, said Planning Director Larry Weil. The Hamms are short several spaces, but they can't add more because they already exceed maximum lot coverage requirements.

"People think, 'Oh, the City Commission is anti-business.' It's more of the fact that he has not followed the ordinance through the years," Mayor Rich Mattern said before the meeting.

Mattern received several calls and e-mails on the subject and was stopped on the street after planning commissioners recommended last week to deny the permit.

About 25 people, including the Hamms, their customers and neighbors, came to Monday's meeting. Many applauded after David Sahr appealed to commissioners to let the business stay. Sahr's son, who the father says has special needs, is in foster care at the Hamms'.

"With my child's disabilities, it almost takes two people to take care of him," Sahr said.

The Hamms said they want to run their business from home because it allows them to better care for their two at-home children and foster children.

Carol Jensen said she's been buying glasses at Priced Right for years and she's always been able to find a parking spot in the driveway.

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"This really amazes me that people can be complaining about this," Jensen said.

But neighbor Brad Schmidt said the volume of traffic and parking is a problem.

"If you don't think it happens, come to my driveway after a fresh snow," he said. That's when he can see how many people turn around in his driveway. Their tracks turn to ice, he said.

The Hamms didn't need a conditional use permit when the business started. But earlier this year, West Fargo finished revising its zoning and subdivision ordinances that included home-based occupations.

New home-based businesses that have customers coming to the home or have an employee must apply for a conditional use permit. Existing businesses are grandfathered in unless a complaint is received. In that case they have to apply for a conditional use permit.

In the Hamms' case, residents in three nearby houses, including Schmidt's, filed a formal complaint alleging the business had too much traffic and violated city parking ordinances. Weil said others also have called to complain.

Neighbor Schmidt said he admires the Hamms for taking in foster children, but the issue is whether the business can fit in the neighborhood.

"If it can't, why should we have to sacrifice?" he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Andrea Domaskin at (701) 241-5556

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