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Cup Cakes Get Their Day in Court as Palm Coast Agrees to a Hearing on Home Bakeries

| May 29, 2012

Where van Gogh's starry night and small-business frosting meet. (photolaugher)

Where van Gogh's starry night and small-business frosting meet. (photolaugher)

For the fourth time in as many months, the Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday debated the vices and virtues of home-based commercial bakeries, and this time decided to let the public decide whether to allow such small operations in residential areas. The council is scheduling a public hearing on the matter, likely in June.

The issue has taken on a magnitude disproportionate to its origins. Just two people—a Palm Coast couple, Cheryl Sheppard, the baker, and Rick de Yampert, her business manager—have shown any interest in starting a home-based bakeries. They brought the proposal to the city, asking for a small change in a local land use rule that would bring it in line with a new state law making allowances for home-based bakeries. In February, the council, on a 3-2 split, agreed to move ahead. The next month the Palm Coast Planning Board unanimously approved the change. (The vote was 4-0, with three absences.)

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By April, when the issue returned, in more formal language, to the council, Mayor Jon nets, who had been the swing vote in favor of the initiative in February, switched sides. He agreed with council members Bill Lewis and Bill McGuire that the proposal was more problematic than he’d initially thought: McGuire considers home-based bakeries potentially unsafe, because the city cannot regulate them, though the state does, if from a distance. Lewis had issues with the absence of oversight and the potential for disruptions in residential neighborhoods.

Council members Frank Meeker and Jason DeLorenzo were all for the proposal, saying the safety issues are overblown—people bake for each other all the time without triggering food-poisoning crises—and the disruption to neighborhoods was a flat-out invention: Sheppard had made clear from the start that she had no intention of selling her products from her house. She wants to sell them to businesses and at city events, to farmer markets, art receptions and the like. The rule just as clearly lays out limitations, such as a $15,000 annual gross-sales cap, which would inherently restrict activity.

The issue crystallized an ongoing debate on the council: how to foster small business in the city—a primary goal of the council—without stifling its innovative fringes. Council members, including McGuire, have spoken favorably of start-ups and incubators. Sheppard and de Yampert see themselves as incubating a small business, but needing to do it from their home because there is no commercial kitchen they could rent in town, and they couldn’t open a store front from the get-go. Starting from home and reaching that $15,000 cap is their first step toward, eventually making their way to their own storefront.

All of which would appear to fit with the city’s stated goal of supporting small businesses. But the hang-up was safety and liability. Even if the state is responsible for home-based bakeries, if something were to go wrong, the public would blame the city, not the state, because the operation is under the city’s aegis. That’s the Netts and McGuire argument.

When Netts switched side, he triggered a fuming response from de Yampert at a subsequent city council meeting, when de Yampert accused the council of arbitrarily deciding the issue without hearing from its sponsors. “It seems you’ve already decided this issue, and this is key, Cheryl and I did not even have any chance to address you, the council, before you decided,” de Yampert told the council. He convinced the council to schedule the issue for yet another workshop, at which de Yampert and Sheppard were invited to make their case. They did so earlier this month, stressing that the state’s new law is not unlike other states’ similar approach. The presentation didn’t seem to sway the council members’ positions—two in favor, three against.

But when the matter was brought up again at this morning’s workshop, Netts appeared to have found a way to diminish his final judgment. City Manager Jim Landon and council member Frank Meeker were suggesting the matter could be debated in a public hearing. Call it a punt or a compromise: Netts was willing.

“I still have my reservations because we are totally dependent on the good intentions of the purveyor or the producer of these foods,” Netts said. “We have a whole list of what is permitted and what is not permitted. But that’s a slippery slope. Pretty soon you’re making Boston cream pies and selling them, and the only way you’re going to get an inspection is if there is a complaint, and that complaint probably will be generated by some sort of food-borne pathogen. All that being said, I think Mr. Meeker and Mr. Landon both raise an interesting point. This issue was brought to us by one or two residents, and we’ve discussed it, and planning board discussed it. The residents of Palm Coast have not had an opportunity to hear it and discuss it. So I’m willing to suggest that we move forward, put this on the agenda, we can vote it up, we can vote it down, but with the appropriate notice we’ll give the community the opportunity to give this their two cents’ worth.”

Meeker reminded the council that the planning board had approved the issue. “They’re a pretty good barometer of the way the public feels about this, too,” Meeker said.

But that only gave Lewis another chance to restate his opposition.

bill lewis palm coast city council member

Bill Lewis. (© FlaglerLive)

“Having been on the planning board I don’t always agree with you on that,” Lewis said. “But at any rate, staff also know the people. They do a lot of research, more so than the planning board, dig deeper down into the ways and the wherefores, so I kind of have to lean in the direction of staff. Staff have to deal with things I don’t. Neither does the planning board.” The city administration is recommending against approving the initiative.

To DeLorenzo, opposing home-based bakeries verges on discrimination. “I don’t see this any different from any other home occupation,” he said. “We don’t regulate insurance companies in the home, tutorial services, we don’t require background checks to ensure that we’re protecting children. This is just another home occupation.”

“I think we do,” Netts countered.

“For tutorial services?”

“I don’t know about tutorial services,” Netts said.

“For day care, I’m sure, but not for tutorial services, I don’t believe so,” DeLorenzo said.

DeLorenzo is right: there is no local oversight for tutorial services, but there is oversight for day care centers—from the state. In that regard, the regulation of day care centers and home-based bakeries would be somewhat similar, though day care centers, to be licensed, are inspected at regular intervals. Home-based bakeries are not necessarily inspected, and would be the subject of investigations only subsequent to a complaint.

Nevertheless, the council was in agreement over a public hearing, with McGuire remaining unusually silent throughout that discussion.

“It’s not necessarily a compromise. It’s kind of like the way we’re supposed to work,” Meeker said.

“Then why are you bailing on us?” Netts said, a reference to Meeker’s announcement last week that he is resigning from the council (by November) in hopes of winning a county commission seat. At roll call at the beginning of the meeting, Meeker had described himself as present, “for now.”

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20 Responses for “Cup Cakes Get Their Day in Court as Palm Coast Agrees to a Hearing on Home Bakeries”

  1. Jojo says:

    I’m all for it next to City Council members homes. Hey, they can have a coffee klatch with their neighbor about the traffic coming and going. Will it be allowed in gated communities too. If not, why not. The Supreme Court allows Jehova’s to preach on your doorstep.

  2. JL says:

    I would like for the council to lay out specific reasons why they want to deny home-based bakeries? This is what people need to get their business started, then generate enough income so they can afford to rent out a larger space. We would pay taxes on everything sold, so that would generate extra revenue. And if the business increases, then taxes would increase. It’s helping people get started. In this economy, it’s what is needed.
    Council Member Lewis is a bit misguided. We are not asking to put up a sign in the front yard, we’re only asking to allow us to bake from home, and take our goods somewhere to sell. There will be no disruption in the neighborhood.
    I’m all for it. And the town could use more bakeries. I guarantee if I’m allowed to start my business in my home, and can generate enough revenue, I will then move my business to a more formal structure within the city and sell my cheesecakes from a store.
    I am ready to start my own cheesecake business if the council will allow it.

  3. Palm Coast Resident says:

    It was turned down once, let it stay down!
    We don’t need cooks for compensation working out of thier homes. The State can’t inspect a home bakery business if no one answers the door. A regular bakery business in a commercial center has to be open to let customers in, that also allows inspectors in to do thier job; And, PC Code Enforcement can’t go on private property to check a code violation if a complaint is turned in and they can’t take pictures of whatever is going on in the house from the street to verify the complaint, if there is one.
    If the couple wants to start a bakery business, rent a small commercial place and work from there.

    The City Council should support the City Staff’s findings.

    My opinion is not only no, but hell no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. JL says:

    Wow, Palm Coast has some negative old croanies.

    Clearly both are deficient in sugar. I would suggest a chocolate filled cupcake.

    Where is the traffic coming from? We (They) want to BAKE in their house and take their baked goods elsewhere to sell. Not sell them from our driveways. And I would welcome anyone to come into my home and inspect it at any time.

  5. anon says:

    A government that thinks small will stay small.

    Their minds are already made up.

  6. Jim says:

    You know what would be a great idea for this area is a kitchen co-op, it’s not an original idea, but I’ve seen the same model used in many different industries and applications from mechanics to artists. Bakers, cooks, caterers etc. can rent the use of a commercial kitchen decked out with commercial/industrial grade equipment through a nominal membership fee. It would work like Office Divvy’s concept of office sharing. Low overhead and an environment that could easily be regulated. In your FACE Palm Coast Business Assistance Center!

    • Beatrice Stone says:

      Jim, the businesses subject to the law regarding Cottage Food Operations specifically requires residence kitchen preparation. The primary benefit of operating under Cottage Food law is exemption from the cost of permitting with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The business model targeted with this law is a small scale operation by design.

  7. Palm Coast Resident says:

    I went to the Florida Department of Health to the FAQ section and found the following…..

    “Can I conduct a food operation from my home?

    No, you can not conduct a food operation from your private residence. This prohibition applies to all of the food regulatory agencies in Florida (Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Department of Health.”

    Also, the schools in Palm Coast do not allow “home baked goods” to be brought to school for class functions. That means Grandma can’t make cookies for her grandaughter’s class get together.
    And, Mom can’t send in cookies for the class either.

    Think maybe the schools know something the City Council hasn’t been made aware of.

    The City Council made the right decision the first time…..I hope they stick with it!

  8. Nancy N. says:

    Who wants to bet that the traditional bakeries in town that are part of the large businesses based here have been lobbying the council members privately to not allow small home-based bakeries to infringe on their business?

    Seriously, council members…wake up and smell the modern world – and the economy. We desperately need business growth here in town and you are turning it away! Small businesses like these home based bakeries under debate are the future of our economy. You either get with the program as a community or you get left behind as entrepreneurs take their businesses elsewhere. Which will it be, Palm Coast?

  9. costarica says:

    The people interested in operating a home-based bakery business will be much more diligent in maintaining sanitary conditions as they know that they have so much more to lose if they get in trouble with passing food-borne illnesses.

    Also, I really wish readers would stop rasing the issue of these businesses creating high traffic in the neighborhood: THEY WANT TO BE ABLE TO BAKE AT THEIR HOMES & SELL ELSEWHERE!!

    We desperately need economic growth & encouragement in this town.

  10. Binkey says:

    Cant they rent a kitchen at one of the schools?

  11. Beatrice Stone says:

    This is a link to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services regulations regarding Cottage Food Businesses. As a vendor in various farmer’s and flea markets in the area, I have heard many discussions regarding this issue. Frankly, most vendors do not like it because we pay the Dept of Agriculture $275-$1500/year for permits to sell food products, while Cottage Food Businesses are exempt from permitting.

    Several points should be emphasised regarding the limitations of Cottage Food Operations:
    -The limit of $15,000 in annual sales is BEFORE any expenses are paid out. I would expect if the business is a success, that limit would require the business owner to move to a permitted status quickly.
    -The types of food allowed is very restrictive, and specifically spelled out, Refrigerated baked good and items containing dairy products are not allowed.
    -Labeling is specific and required, giving the public, and the buyer/consumer, notice that the item was prepared in an operation “not subject to Flor-ida’s food safety regulations”.
    -In order to operate under the Cottage Food Law, the product MUST be prepared in the residence kitchen. Commercial kitchens are not an option.
    It is clear those who oppose such start-ups have never started up their own business on a shoestring, nor are they supportive of others who wish to be self-employed. Owning and running your own business is very risky, but many people cannot find a job and resort to starting their own business as a means to support themselves. Clever business people will succeed and add cash flow to the community. Allowing Cottage Food Operations in Palm Coast is one way the City Council can prove they are truly PRO-BUSINESS.

  12. DP says:

    @ Palm Coast Resident, Your right with the School issue, but you needs to review Beatrice Stone’s post of 6-1-12 which allows these types of business in the home. Why are you against this? You don’t have to buy or eat anything that is produced.

    @ Beatrice Stone your posts are correct to a point 99.9%, One issue is the State of Florida doesn’t “require” that these type of business’s be home based, but allows them to be home based. That would be like a current bakery that wanted to reduce costs and move into a home which would not be allowed.

    @ JL I’m with you 100%, How else does a future business get started? With all the undo added expense’s the cities have placed on a potential new business its cost prohibitive. I agree why all the negativity against anything? Is it about change? without change, comes additional expense passed onto those same negative old cronies?

    @ Nancy I doubt the current bakeries have anything to be concerned with a home based business with the restrictions placed on them by the State of Florida. I’m one of your 5 likes I’m behind anything to help the struggling future entrepreneurs.

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