I'm not sure whether the moral of this story is that small towns need to wake up to 21st Century reality or just that small town small mindedness is bad for business but either way it's been an interesting few days. On Friday night I spent several hours speaking with Berlin's Mayor, Bob Danderson. He was charming and welcoming and even admitted that he wasn't prepared to like me. He also explained his rationale for many of the decisions he's made that I might not agree with, but were done in an effort to broaden the tax base and reduce the property tax burden. And we ended up on agreeing on many more things than I expected.
I came back to Durham on Saturday afternoon to an official notification that I am in violation of the zoning ordinance of the Town of Durham. As many of you know, I have a tendency to start companies in my kitchen -- that's one of the reasons for the photograph to the left. KDPaine & Partners is my second such venture and like Delahaye, the first few years we operated out of whatever free space was available. Initially that meant my building on Islington Street, but when I sold the building, the business followed me back to the farm.
My business is the quintessential virtual company. We have central operations in Berlin, a technology office in Kittery, ME, writers all over the country and partners all over the world. Occasionally we get together for a staff meeting or anniversary party but mostly we operate out of wherever we are at the time. Unfortunately, having a virtual company is illegal in my part of Durham. Because I live in a residential zone, I'm not allowed to operate anything other than a "Home Occupation" -- which is defined as having fewer than 4 employees. We have 20 employees. 1 in Durham, 1 in Dover, 3 in Kittery and the rest in Berlin. So, because KDPaine & Partners has become successful and grown, I am now breaking the law and can either shut my business down, or move. Needless to say, I'm choosing to move. Goodbye Durham, Hello Berlin.
The town of Durham has spent years talking about high taxes (mine are over $40K a year!) blaming the University and enacting zoning regulations that restrict business development. There was a time when I even supported some of those restrictions. However, when the new zoning regulations were initially proposed, and I was still serving on the Durham Town Council, I made a recommendation that the new Zoning regulations should encourage 21st Century virtual businesses like KDPaine & Partners.
We don't pollute, we have minimal impact on the environment, we bring people into town to eat, and to stay in local hotels. We provide jobs for University graduates. We buy supplies in town, shop in town, and do our banking in town, all of which contribute to the economic health of the community. We also volunteer our time, donate to local charities, lend our expertise to local non-profits and contribute to social capital and civic engagements in dozens of different ways. The town, however, chose to ignore my suggestion and the new Zoning ordinance bans business services of all types in residential areas. You can't even get a conditional use permit to operate a business like mine.
I could, of course, rent space somewhere nearby (but not in Durham because there is essentially no office space in Durham.) But even if such space were available, it seems a little silly when you're living on 55 acres to have to set up an office somewhere else. And in a day when we're all trying to reduce our carbon footprint, shouldn't we be encouraging people to work to commute less instead of more?
But the powers that be in Durham obviously don't see it that way. So if you know anyone who wants to rent a really lovely three bedroom house in Durham, New Hampshire, let me know.