J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · April 7, 2016

Dallas—The City of Dallas is using zoning laws to shut down a 30-year-old, minority-owned small business—all without having to pay the owner a dime.

Hinga Mbogo has owned and operated Hinga Automotive on Ross Avenue since 1985. In that time, he’s become a neighborhood fixture and one of the most trusted and beloved mechanics in Dallas. But now, after years of serving happy customers—including the Dallas Police Department—the city is threatening to shut him down to transform Ross Avenue into the “gateway to the Dallas Arts District.”

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that fights property rights abuses nationwide, is partnering with Hinga to fight the city’s abuse of zoning laws. The city is using the zoning change to force Hinga out of business to make way for businesses the city deems more appropriate for an arts district, such as high-end coffee shops, deluxe apartments and restaurants.

“What’s happening to Hinga is nothing other than eminent domain abuse by another name–the city is clearing out a business it does not like and replacing Hinga’s shop with businesses city planners prefer,” said IJ Senior Attorney William Maurer. “But unlike eminent domain, Hinga will not even be compensated for the city’s unethical property-rights abuse. This is nothing other than government-mandated gentrification.”

Watch a Video about Hinga’s Fight
Petition: “Dallas: Don’t Zone Me Out of Business”  (20,000+ signatures)

On February 2, the Dallas Plan Commission rejected its own staff recommendation and voted down Hinga’s application for a special-use permit, which would have allowed him to stay in business for an additional two years. The vote was a surprise, as the commission rarely goes against its own staff’s recommendations. Hinga, working closely with the Institute for Justice, is now asking the Dallas City Council to reverse that decision. The City Council will consider his appeal on April 13th.

Tens of thousands of people have rallied in support of Hinga. An online petition on Change.org has already been signed by more than 20,000 people. The petition states that using “zoning laws to destroy small businesses is wrong.”

Dallas is able to employ slow-motion eminent-domain abuse because of a procedure known as “amortization.” In 2005, Dallas changed the zoning along Ross Avenue to prohibit mechanic shops. The Plan Commission gave Hinga a certain amount of time to close up shop to make way for the city-approved businesses. Unlike eminent domain, where the city would have to pay him market value for his property, when the government drives someone out of business by changing 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 (which is an impossibility if the owner wants to continue his business). Undaunted, Hinga has fought the city’s efforts to shut down his business for years. But time is running out.

“When I found out about the zoning change, I couldn’t believe that this was something that could happen in America,” said Hinga. “I left a country where something like this could happen, but not here. I thought that America was the land of opportunity.”

“It is wrong for a city to play favorites and shut down one business to make way for another,” said IJ Attorney Ari Bargil.

The Institute for Justice will be holding a press conference before the hearing next Wednesday.