LAKEWAY, Texas—Bianca King is a single mother with two young children. Until recently, she was able to raise her 2-and 4-year-old kids while making a living running a small day care out of her home. But on Feb. 9, city officials—citing concerns of a group of nearby golfers (including former Mayor Joe Bain) that they could hear and see children playing in her backyard—shut her down. Today, she joined forces with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file a lawsuit in state court challenging Lakeway’s near total ban on running a home business.
“Women have used their homes to care for their neighbors’ children for thousands of years and Bianca should be able to do so,” said IJ Senior Attorney Erica Smith Ewing. “If Bianca were babysitting her friends’ and neighbors’ kids for free, the city couldn’t do anything to stop her. There’s no reason they should be able to shut her down simply because she makes a living doing so.”
The lawsuit argues that Lakeway’s use of zoning laws to stop a state-licensed home day care business is unconstitutional. A victory for Bianca would set precedent that would help Texans throughout the state defend their right to earn an honest living in their own homes.
“A former mayor’s desire to golf without seeing children’s toys outside any of the homes near the golf course does not defeat a single mother’s right to earn a living by caring for her neighbors’ children,” said IJ Attorney Jared McClain. “Citizens of Lakeway have a right to earn a living, even if it isn’t ‘effectively undetectable’ by a neighbor.”
Bianca was laid off from her previous job during the pandemic, so she decided to start running her home day care. For months, Bianca was operating her business with no issue. Her customers were all neighbors, most would walk their children over in strollers and she would watch only two to four children at a time. Her customers were all happy with the service.
In August 2021, Bianca learned that she would need a home occupation permit from the city, in addition to the license she already had from the state. She applied to get the permit from the Lakeway Zoning and Planning Commission; as part of that process, she had to inform her neighbors that there would be a public hearing about her business where they could voice their opinions. At the November hearing, former mayor Bain, who lives about half a mile away, was the only resident to speak out against Bianca’s business. He complained that toys were “fully visible from the golf course” and that the sounds of children was interfering with his golf game. Bianca’s yard backs up to the tee box at the 8th hole.
The Zoning and Planning Commission denied Bianca’s request. Officials didn’t provide a specific reason, but several of them brought up the claim that the city’s ordinance requires home businesses to be “undetectable.”
In February, Bianca appealed the Zoning and Planning Commission’s decision with the Board of Adjustments. In order to overturn the original decision, Bianca needed six of seven board members to vote in her favor. During that meeting, Bianca received testimony in support of her business from the current mayor and an emotional statement of support from her father who said, “I will not apologize for giving my grandchildren a child playhouse.” That testimony didn’t do enough to sway the board members who decided by a 4-2 vote (with one recusal) to uphold the Zoning and Planning Commission’s decision to shut her down, after hearing more complaints from golfers.
“I’ve been trying to do everything the right way,” Bianca said. “I love caring for my neighbors’ children and providing a much-needed service for my community. I was confused and devastated when the city denied my permit.”
Making matters worse, Lakeway’s decision to shut down Bianca’s business comes at a time of childcare shortages throughout the country. A recent survey found that nearly every state has childcare provider shortages, some as high as 90 percent, causing many parents to stay out of the work force and having an impact on the larger economy. One member of the Zoning and Planning Commission, who voted against Bianca in November, even acknowledged the shortage and conceded that “she does provide a need in the community.”
IJ has fought against similar laws that prevent individuals from using their homes to earn an honest living, such as the one in Nashville that is preventing a single father from using his garage as a recording studio and a widow from cutting her neighbors’ hair. Additionally, IJ is currently challenging other harmful zoning laws, such as the one being used to kick people out of their homes in Sierra Vista, Arizona, and the one that is threatening to put a small mechanic in Pasadena, Texas, out of business by requiring him to install 23 parking spaces he doesn’t need and can’t afford.