Right now, only one city in Champaign County, IL, allows people to run car repair businesses out of their homes. The county's planning and zoning department says that needs to change. The director said the key here is what it appears to be, and where the line is between changing oil in your garage and running a home repair shop.
"We have always heard stories of individuals who are accused of conducting auto repair in their garages," said John Hall.
“Accused of auto repair”? Doesn't sound like a scandal. But the director of planning and zoning is afraid it could be.
"You may not be charging at all, but if you do it often enough, it begins to look like a business," said Hall. "Let's just say you're extremely good-natured and willing to change the oil for all of your friends at no charge. You may not be receiving any income, but to a neighbor, that looks like an auto repair business."
And the only place in the county where you're allowed to do such things is Urbana.
"Urbana does really want to support our entrepreneurs, and one way to do that is to support home-based businesses, including minor auto repair," said Lorrie Pearson, Urbana's planning director.
I asked Hall what “minor auto repair” actually means.
"It's not body work; it's not engine overhaul. It's just servicing," he explained. "Changing fluids, changing filters, changing plugs, rotating tires---things like that."
Things anyone handy with a wrench could opt to do at home. And what's the harm in agreeing to rotate your neighbor's tires for a couple bucks? Technically, that's considered a business transaction. It's why Hall believes the rules should change.
"If the city would allow this, why wouldn't the county?" he said. "That was a good question I couldn't answer."
Right now, the Zoning Board of Appeals is considering the new county ordinance allowing minor auto repair business to be conducted at home. There will be a public hearing on this on Jan. 25. If that goes well, a county board committee will consider the change. Hall said he hopes to have that on the books within the next couple of months.
Running a home auto shop in Urbana may be allowed, but there's still a process to get the OK to do it. Would-be mechanics have to first get a conditional use permit, then the ZBA has to hold a public hearing.