The Lakeway City Council voted Monday night to clarify and streamline the city’s home business ordinance. Bianca King, who operates an at-home day care in the city, said the changes are not enough for her to drop her lawsuit over the ordinance being unfairly restrictive.
King sued the city in March after she was denied a permit to continue operating a small day care business out of her home. The Zoning and Planning Commission denied King’s permit application in November, arguing that the day care did not fit all of the city’s 19 criteria for a legal home business. At the time, King’s lawyers argued that Lakeway’s home business ordinance is unreasonably strict to the point of violating the state constitution.
King is a single mother with experience working in education who provides child care for several local families. She opened her day care after she was laid off earlier in the pandemic and it is now her main source of income. King registered her business as a babysitting service with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in January 2021 and is allowed to watch up to four children in addition to her own.
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With the new ordinance, the city streamlined the requirements down to 10 and added a section that specifically addresses at-home day cares.
A number of the requirements remain the same, including that an at-home business cannot change the residential character of the lot and that the use of the building as a business will be secondary to its use as a home.
Other requirementsthat are no longer in the code include the ban on storing merchandise onsite and the rule that the occupation must occur entirely indoors.
Building and Development services manager Erin Carr said the purpose of the changes is to make the ordinance more specific and therefore enforceable — some of the original 19 requirements were difficult to enforce in practice, she said.
The day care section of the ordinance establishes that at-home day cares must apply for a permit at the Zoning and Planning Commission and City Council, whereas before the city’s code enforcement official had the ability to approve those permits.
King will be able to apply for an at-home business permit under the new guidelines, Carr said. Businesses that already have permits in place will not have to reapply, she said.
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King said condensing the requirements in the ordinance was a positive step, but she feels the permit application requirements for at-home day cares are still too burdensome. Going before the Zoning and Planning Commission and City Council is complicated for small day care operators, many of whom don’t have lawyers or assistance with the process, she said.
King is also concerned about the leeway in the ordinance for the city to make demands of at-home day cares that might be difficult to comply with — and could potentially conflict with state requirements. For example, the City Council will have the ability to approve or deny a permit to a day care based on information about the business model, she said.
“We have no idea what kind of restrictions they would place,” she said. “Even though we have very clear criteria on what we need to follow from the state and what we need to do, the city is allowing themselves to be able to put any kind of restriction they’d like on a home child care business.”
During the council meeting Monday, Council Member Sanjeev Kumar said the reason the ordinance allows for discretion in approving permits is because each home, lot and business model is different and the council needs to be able to take that into account.
King was also frustrated that the city did not include in the ordinance permission for her to have a helper onsite to assist with the children.
With the lawsuit ongoing, King’s business will continue to operate — she reached an agreement with the city in March to allow her to operate until the matter is resolved.
Carr said once the wording of the ordinance has been finalized it will be signed by the mayor and posted on the city’s website.