Dallas—Today, July 5, 2016, Hinga’s Automotive—a trusted and beloved auto mechanic shop located on Ross Ave.—is at risk of being forced off the land it has called home for thirty years.
This morning the city of Dallas filed a petition in Dallas County District Court seeking an injunction to force Hinga Mbogo to stop fixing cars on the land he owns or pay up to $1,000 per day in fines. The lawsuit follows an April city council meeting where the members voted to deny Hinga Automotive a Specific Use Permit, hoping that, with him gone, the city would attract retail establishments “like Starbucks, Macaroni Grill or nice sit-down restaurants” as one city councilmember explained during the meeting (even though neither Starbucks or Macaroni Grill has expressed any desire to take advantage of Dallas’ land grab).
The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that fights property rights abuses nationwide, will represent Hinga in his fight against the city’s abuse of zoning laws.
“The city’s use of retroactive rezoning—a process formally known as ‘amortization’—is a clear violation of at least three provisions of the Texas Constitution,” said IJ Senior Attorney William Maurer, who will represent Hinga in the lawsuit. “By reaching back and making a previously legal business illegal, the city has changed the rules of the game long after Hinga started his business. Hinga has done nothing wrong. He’s put down roots on Ross Avenue. His customers love him. He weathered the rough times, and now he wants to be part of Dallas’ revitalization. The only thing standing in his way is a city plan that believes auto mechanic shops are incompatible with Dallas’ vision of a sterile, homogenous cityscape that looks just like every other gentrified city in America.”
Hinga opened his repair shop in 1986. Nineteen years later, in 2005, Dallas changed the zoning along Ross Avenue to make his shop illegal. The city gave Hinga an uncertain amount of time to close up shop to make way for city-approved businesses. But Hinga has fought for the past 11 years against the city’s attempt to push him out for businesses favored by city planners.
This April, his time ran out when the city denied his request to stay for an additional two years at the location where he built his business.
Unlike eminent domain, where the city would have to at least pay a property owner market value for his property, when the government retroactively changes a zoning law, the city does not compensate the property owner. Instead, the city gives the owner a limited amount of time to either sell the property or “come into compliance” with the zoning change. For Hinga, “coming into compliance” means ending his current business and replacing it with another or even tearing down his building and putting something else there.
Although Hinga’s neighbors and customers want him to stay, the city and a group of influential homeowners from another area are determined to drive Hinga’s business from his property. The Dallas City Council has taken its cues from the Bryan Area Neighborhood Association, a group of private homeowners who do not even live on Ross Avenue. In 2013, when the city considered Hinga’s previous request to stay on his property, the Association threatened to oppose him unless he agreed to not seek any additional extensions. Hinga’s own city councilmember, Philip Kingston, required Hinga to agree to the Association’s demands or be forced to immediately close.
Earlier this year, the city denied Hinga’s request to stay because it was inconsistent with the demands made by the Association when he obtained his 2013 renewal.
“What Dallas is doing is nothing other than slow motion, uncompensated eminent domain,” said IJ attorney Ari Bargil. “This is after-the-fact, government-mandated gentrification that is being pushed by a private party. That is forbidden by the Texas Constitution. And we’re confident that, ultimately, the Texas courts will vindicate Hinga’s rights.”
Tens of thousands of people have rallied in support of Hinga. An online petition on Change.org has been signed by more than 90,000 people. The petition states that using “zoning laws to destroy small businesses is wrong.”