Getting Used to Live and Work

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By Brian Patton, Capital Listings

Live, work, and play has become a mantra of progressive thinking communities throughout the nation. Evidence is mounting that consumers not only want to live near their work because of the convenience, but also because of the rising costs of energy.

In the north Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, one such business owner that I spoke with has taken advantage of a little known allowance in the zoning code. That portion of the code allows business owners in certain commercial districts to live in the same building as they work. He loves being close to downtown and is able to walk to nearby conveniences. While he still maintains a car, it is no longer a necessity and his vehicle gas bills have dropped to almost nothing.

Another measure of the popularity of the live and work concept is the number of people that are working from their homes. Home occupation licenses, as they’re called, have increased in Alpharetta, for example, by a large factor. Starting in 2004, the number of home occupation licenses issued doubled from 2003. And, again in 2007, the number doubled over the previous year.

James Drinkard, Alpharetta’s assistant city administrator, speaking on the increase, says “home occupation increases are not just due to employees quitting jobs and starting small businesses, but big companies are changing their employment base to contract labor.”

The shift away from traditional employees saves companies office space and increases productivity, while also decreasing the employee’s work expenses. According to Drinkard, “Companies are looking more at labor force drive times and commute options when they are looking for office locations,” to help in attracting employees and decreasing employee travel expenses.

Forsyth County, the eighth fastest growing county in the nation according to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau report, has seen a steady increase in home occupation licenses in the last ten years. However, the last year and a half has seen dramatic increases. From 2006 to 2007, home occupation permits rose 33 percent. And, the first half of 2008, has outpaced all of 2007 and is on pace to more than double last year’s record.

New developments are also stepping into the picture to provide some live/work options. The Crabapple Crossroads Plan, which is now a planning tool for the new City of Milton, encourages creation of a “Village Office/Residential” and a “Village Mixed Use” category. Under certain conditions, these new developments will allow someone to live and work in the same building. Developers have already started meeting this demand with several new projects that are underway.

Other municipalities, such as the City of Johns Creek, have similar allowances. In addition to their mixed use zoning categories, the city allows “apartments above or behind commercial and office uses in the same building” in their Community Business Districts.

So, it is likely that with local governments and developers realizing the “live and work” trend, more opportunities are on the horizon for consumers. And, more opportunities to change our commute patterns will yield more opportunity to save money at the pump.

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