Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why No One Is Going to Open a Commercial Kitchen in the House Next Door to Yours

Should Montgomery County churches, if located in residential zones, be allowed to operate community commercial kitchens? I blogged the topic in A Community Commercial Kitchen for Takoma Park? but will take on a couple more points, Parking (and other disruption) and Operational requirements.

Brief background: Most residents who have contacted me support the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church's plan to open a CCK. A zoning change would be needed, however, given the church's location in an R-60 area, zoned for single-family housing. Churches may open in R-60 and other residential zones; the question is whether they should be newly allowed to operate CCKs.

Several residents expressed concerns to about parking and traffic impact. I don't see a TPPC community commercial kitchen, or any church CCK, generating more than a couple of vehicle trips per hour, on average. In TPPC's case, there is a 3-car zone marked with One Hour Parking signs, and other nearby streets require residential parking permits for daytime hours Monday to Friday. CK activity during the work day could not legally take street parking spots from residents. It would, however, affect Takoma Park Child Development Center parents and church visitors.

Other complaints about church-associated behavior relate to existing evening and weekend activities, when a church rents out a hall for events that attract large numbers of people and go on late into the night. Food for these events is brought in; CCKs are unrelated.

Concern two is that fear that a property owner will convert a single-family home into a church and open a commercial kitchen. I do not see significant risk of such conversions, in Takoma Park or elsewhere in the county. They would be uneconomical.

Consider Montgomery County's licensure and operational requirements for commercial kitchens, wherever located. Excerpting from a page on the county's Web site --
"Chapter 15, Montgomery County Code, 2004, requires that everyone who prepares, serves, sells, or gives away food to the public have a valid Montgomery County Food Service License. The only exception to this law is for the sale of fresh, whole produce or live crustaceans. At least one individual who has a current Montgomery County Certified Food Service Manager card must be present at all times when food is being prepared...

"All food that is prepared for sale or service to the public must be prepared at a licensed facility. A residential kitchen at a private home or apartment cannot be licensed for commercial use...

"When you make application for your [Montgomery County Food Service ] license, you will be asked to provide information concerning the types of food you intend to prepare, and develop a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) type food preparation review for typical items on your menu...

"An initial operating inspection will be conducted prior to the issuance of a license, unannounced operational inspections will be conducted each year."
County Certified Food Service Manager and Food Service Facility license applications are linked from another county Web page along with Maryland state HACCP guidelines, referenced above. They make me wonder if the CCP part (Cyrillic characters that stand for Soviet Socialist Republic) is coincidental.

These licensure, operational, and inspection requirements mean it is impossible to open a legal commercial kitchen casually.

(Someone willing to operate an unlicensed CK will ignore zoning restrictions.) Serious investment is involved, and remember the 5% space limitation on a CK per the proposed ZTA 11-08. A CK in a 2,000 sq.ft. property would be limited to 100 sq.ft., or 10'x10' and couldn't also be used for residential food preparation. A CK in 3,000 sq.ft. property would be limited to 150 sqft., or 10'x15'.

I conclude that no serious person is going to attempt to convert a house to a church in order to open a CK.

(No non-serious person will make it through the licensing & inspections.)

3 comments:

  1. Seth: I have zero concerns about the CCK being applied in Takoma. I am concerned, however, that the zoning exception could have unintended consequences in the Ag buffer upcounty; there have been several instances of clashes between the Co Council and large churches over their ambitious development plans -- can this zoning exception open up a can of worms elsewhere?
    tnx, DonnaV

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    1. Donna, yes, it can open a can of worms. That's a concern expressed, in particular, by Councilmember Marc Elrich, and it's a concern raised by city staff in their backgrounder for last Tuesday evening's city council meeting. Based on the staff recommendation, the city council wished to suggest changes to Councilmember George Leventhal's draft ZTA. I relayed those suggestions to George: to narrow the definition to focus on community-scale uses, and to limit kitchen size to 1,200 sq. ft.

      Seth

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    2. Seth, the fact that a majority of your neighbors would oppose enabling people like Cecily Moyer to have a home-based catering operation or a community kitchen in a residential zone deeply disturbs me. I can't tell from your comments but it appears you take those concerns as a given and a normal approach to the issue. This is why a majority of actual progressive urban planners and policy people (unlike the people we have working for Takoma Park and constituents who are in fact quite conservative on many of these issues and are quite out of step with, and constantly making big shows of "catching up with" actual progressive policy ten years behind other communities it makes a show of emulating) and these urban professionals are deeply critical of the entire system of zoning as it is practiced in the US, which is antithetical to traditional urban and small-town policy and antithetical to common practice in other parts of the world. The fact of the matter is that Takoma Park has DE-ZONED its mixed-use areas in the past 20 years, evicting large numbers of apartments and home-based businesses in the process, and has done so WILLINGLY, in the name of promoting gentrification, as the majority of your voting constituents stand to financially benefit from the increasing drastic economic and structural (i.e. zoning) homogenization of the community, as documented by Kathy Porter herself in Novemnber's Voice. Still, you cannot have a reasonable discussion with folks about the issue when the underlying assumptions are so drastically at out of step with what would be considered progressive ideas (including for anyone who, like Cecily, one of the top cooks in our community who wished to start a home-based business and was prevented from doing so by policies like these, endorsed and advocated more stringently by neighbors.

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