Dallas—On Friday, in a blow to the property rights of all Texans, a Dallas judge dismissed Hinga’s Automotive’s countersuit challenging the city’s use of retroactive zoning to force the car repair shop off the property it occupied for 30 years. Following the decision, Hinga Mbogo, who partnered with the Institute for Justice to fight the city’s land grab, announced that he will appeal the dismissal.
To protest the city’s actions and draw attention to his fight for property rights, Hinga’s Automotive also announced plans to protest the city’s action and seek a permit to paint a mural on the side of the garage asking passers-by to “stand with Hinga.”
“We’re confident that the appellate courts will recognize that the Texas Constitution prohibits the city from pushing out a 30-year-old business by changing zoning rules to make the business illegal,” said William Maurer, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Hinga’s Automotive. “The Texas Constitution makes it clear that a government cannot pass laws that take a legal business and make it illegal except when there is a compelling reason. Dallas freely admits it did what it did to get Hinga to sell his property so city-approved businesses could replace it. However, pushing a beloved local business out so the city can attract more chain restaurants is not a legitimate reason, much less a compelling one.”
Friday’s decision in Mr. Mbogo’s countersuit comes more than a year after the city sued Hinga’s automotive, alleging it violated the city’s rezoning of his property. The judge’s decision did not reach the city’s lawsuit, which seeks upwards of $300,000 in fines on Hinga, even though the ordinance the city alleges he violated explicitly limits fines to a maximum of $2,000 total. Appealing the dismissal will temporarily halt all actions in the trial court, including the city’s suit against Hinga.
“For years, I’ve fought the city to hold on to my dream and I’m not giving up,” said Hinga Mbogo. “I have all the confidence in the world that the courts will right this wrong and put an end to the city’s land grab.”
In 2005, Dallas changed the zoning along Ross Avenue to make operating an auto mechanic shop illegal. The city gave Hinga a certain amount of time to close up shop to make way for the city-approved businesses. But Hinga fought the city’s attempt to push him out for businesses favored by city planners for the past 11 years. In April 2016, his time ran out when the city denied his request to stay for an additional two years where he built his business.
In denying the specific use permit, Dallas City Councilman Rickey Callahan, a real estate developer, explained his vote, saying:
“[S]ometimes when you have a proliferation of these auto-related businesses, you’re not going to get national-accredited tenants come in like Starbucks, Macaroni Grill or nice sit-down restaurants and so forth. They’re not going to spend a million dollars or two million dollars to be next door.”
Watch the exchange here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY2sfH3S_m4
Unlike eminent domain, where the city would have to at least pay him market value for his property, when the government retroactively changes a zoning law—a process formally known as “amortization”—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. In Hinga’s case, “coming into compliance” means either closing his current business and replacing it with another, or even tearing down his building and putting something else there. Shortly after the city sued him, Hinga was forced to move his business to a less desirable rental property, even though he owns his property on Ross Avenue outright.
Tens of thousands of people have rallied in support of Hinga. An online petition on Change.org has been signed by more than 92,000 people. The petition states that using “zoning laws to destroy small businesses is wrong.”