Lakeway City Council voted on 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 were not enough to drop her trial because of the ordinance being falsely restrictive.
In March, King sued the city after she was denied permission to continue operating a small day care business out of her home. The Zoning and Planning Commission rejected King’s permit application in November, arguing that the day care did not fit all 19 of the city’s criteria for a legal home business. At the time, King’s lawyers argued that Lakeway’s home trade ordinance was unreasonably strict on the issue of violating the state’s constitution.
King is a single mother with experience working in the field of education providing childcare to many local families. She opened her day care after being 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 see up to four children in addition to herself.
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With the new ordinance, the city reduced the requirements to 10 and added a clause that specifically addresses care at home.
Several requirements remain the same, including that a 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 requirements that are no longer in the code include restrictions on the storage of goods onsite and the rule that the business must be entirely indoors.
Building and Development Services Manager Erin Carr said the changes are intended to make the ordinance more specific and therefore enforceable — some of the original 19 requirements were difficult to implement in practice, she said.
The day care section of the ordinance established that at-home day care would have to apply for permits to the Zoning and Planning Commission and city council, while the city code enforcement officer had the ability to approve those permits.
Carr said King will be able to apply for a home business permit under the new guidelines. He added that businesses that already have permits will not have to apply again.
More:Lakeway City Council discusses at-home business ordinance after daycare lawsuit
King said reducing the requirements in the ordinance was a positive step, but he thinks the permit application requirements for home care are still too cumbersome. He said 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.
King is also concerned about an ordinance exemption for the city to demand at-home care that could be difficult to comply with – and could potentially conflict with state requirements. For example, city councils would have the ability to approve or deny permits for day care based on information about the business model, she said.
“We don’t know what kind of restrictions they’ll put in place,” she said. “Even though we have very clear criteria as to what we need to follow from the state and what we need to do, the city is allowing itself to be able to impose any restrictions that they can with a home child care. Want on business.”
During the council meeting on Monday, council member Sanjeev Kumar said the ordinance allows discretion in approving permits as each house, lot and business model is different and the council should be able to take this into account.
King was also dismayed that the city had not included in the ordinance permitting an assistant to be onsite to assist the children.
With the trial going on, King’s business will continue – he struck a deal with the city in March to allow him to continue working 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.