After city forced him to move, Dallas auto mechanic still fighting to get back to Ross Avenue
Hinga Mbogo’s small auto repair shop on Ross Avenue today sits empty, another vestige of the days when the then-seedy stretch of road was a hodgepodge of used-car dealerships and body shops.
Near the vacant property, another new apartment complex is going up not far from new townhouses and near a new bar and a new restaurant and new federal credit union. The former Dallas ISD headquarters next door is awaiting reincarnation as an apartment complex.
The corridor these days is beginning to resemble the “gateway to the Arts District” that the City Council envisioned years ago. And Mbogo longs to be back there, where he spent more than 30 years building his business.
Instead, he and his crew toil away in a shop he leases that sits 2 miles and seemingly a world away from Ross Avenue. Outside, crowds of homeless people congregate underneath Interstate 30 near the Austin Street Shelter and CitySquare’s Opportunity Center.
Mbogo’s new digs aren’t all bad. Hinga’s Automotive on Chestnut Street is bigger and bustling with so many cars that he had to hire more people. It’s just not what he wants, and he vows to keep fighting until he can go back to Ross Avenue.
Mbogo became a symbol for property rights advocates across the country when he fought Dallas City Hall last year and lost a zoning case. He is still holding out hope that he will ultimately prevail.
“The fight has not been fair, but that’s beside the point,” Mbogo said. “The city — they don’t care about the little guy. They’re going to do what they’re going to do.
The odds don’t appear to be in his favor. The city sued him last summer, seeking up to $1,000 a day for every day he operated without a specific use permit. Mbogo had done so for nearly a year. The permit, when he had it, allowed him to stay in business for more than a decade after the council changed the area’s zoning, which booted the boot auto shops after five years in an attempt to improve the neighborhood.
City attorneys believe amortization, the seldom-used zoning tool used to force Mbogo out, is settled law, and that a ruling against them would mean cities no longer have the right to rezone. A state district judge recently agreed with the city, dismissing Mbogo’s countersuit.
Mbogo has legal support to help his case and his appeal. The libertarian Institute for Justice is backing Mbogo and pushing out to the media a narrative about the case: that a Kenyan immigrant who owned a small business achieved the American Dream but was robbed of it by the government and its love of upscale development.
“We believe the Texas Constitution provides protection for folks like Hinga, and we’re intent on fighting it in the courts as much as we need to,” said Institute for Justice attorney Ari Bargil.
Bargil and his fellow attorneys are prepared to take the case to the Texas Supreme Court if they must to try to win a ruling against the amortization, which could have far-reaching consequences in zoning law.
Mbogo is prepared to fight on, too. He hopes to add a mural on the side of his Ross Avenue garage that implores residents to “stand with Hinga.” He said it’s him now, but it will be somebody else next time.
“They’re going to do it to somebody else and somebody else and somebody else,” Mbogo said. “There should be a law against what they did. I feel like I should fight it to where I can see an end to it. It’s a lot of injustice. You build a business for 30 years and someone tells you you can’t do what you want to do? That’s crazy.”