The Lakeway City Council voted Monday night to clarify and streamline the city’s home-based business ordinance. Bianca King, who runs a home daycare in the city, said the changes aren’t enough to drop her case that the ordinance is unfairly restrictive.
King sued the city in March after she was denied a permit to continue operating a small daycare business out of her home. The Zoning and Planning Commission denied King’s permit application in November, arguing that the daycare did not meet all 19 of the city’s criteria for a legal home-based business. At the time, King’s attorneys argued that Lakeway’s home business ordinance was unreasonably strict to the point of violating the state constitution.
King is a single mother with a background in education who provides childcare for several local families. She opened her day care after being laid off earlier during 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 babysit 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 home day care.
A number of requirements remain the same, including that the business in the home cannot change the residential character of the lot and that the business use of the building will be secondary to its home use.
Other requirements no longer in the code include the ban on on-site storage of goods and the rule that the occupation must be entirely indoors.
Building and Development Services Manager Erin Carr said the changes are meant to make the ordinance more specific and therefore enforceable — some of the original 19 requirements are difficult to put into practice, she said.
The daycare section of the ordinance states that home daycares must apply for a permit to the Zoning and Planning Commission and City Council, whereas previously the city’s code enforcement officer had the ability to approve those permits.
King will be able to apply for a home business permit under the new guidelines, Carr said. Businesses that already have permits issued will not have to reapply, she said.
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King said shortening the requirements in the ordinance is a positive step, but she believes the requirements to apply for a home day care permit 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 help with the process, she said.
King is also concerned about the leeway in the ordinance for the city to make requirements for home day care that may be difficult to comply with — and could potentially conflict with state requirements. For example, the City Council would have the ability to approve or deny a day care permit based on information about the business model, she said.
“We have no idea what restrictions they would put in place,” she said. “Even though we have very clear criteria for what we have to follow from the state and what we have to do, the city allows itself to be able to impose any restrictions on home child care businesses.”
During Monday’s council meeting, council member Sanjiv Kumar said the reason the ordinance allows discretion in approving permits is because every home, lot and business model is different and the council should be able to take that into account.
King was also disappointed that the city did not include in the ordinance a permit for her to have an on-site aide to help with the children.
As the lawsuit continues, King’s business will continue to operate — she reached a settlement with the city in March to allow her to operate until the matter is resolved.
Carr said once the wording of the ordinance is finalized, it will be signed by the mayor and posted on the city’s website.