City Hall wants an East Dallas auto mechanic to pay for his defiance.
The city of Dallas filed a lawsuit Tuesday in state district court that seeks fines of up to $1,000 for each day Hinga Mbogo
has operated his Ross Avenue repair shop without a specific-use permit. Mbogo’s permit expired Aug. 14, 2015, meaning he could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The City Council voted in April to shutter Mbogo’s business as a finishing touch to an 11-year-old rezoning effort. Mbogo, who was out of town Tuesday, has ignored the council’s decision and continued to fix cars at his shop.
Mbogo, whose case won support from libertarian property rights group Institute for Justice, has said he should be able to continue running his 30-year-old business. The libertarian legal group has vowed to fight as long as it can on the lawsuit, calling the city’s zoning rules unconstitutional in Texas.
“We will take them all the way to the Texas Supreme Court if that’s necessary,” said Ari Bargil, an Institute for Justice attorney.
If Mbogo’s advocates are successful, courts could strike down the zoning law that put Mbogo in City Hall’s cross hairs in the first place.
Mbogo’s battle began in 2005, when the City Council voted to change its zoning in the Bryan Place area to forbid the auto repair shops and used car lots that had filled up Ross Avenue northeast of the downtown Arts District.
The retroactive zoning process, called amortization, is rarely used in Dallas. Even the area’s council member Philip Kingston, who voted against Mbogo, called the zoning rule “harsh.”
But supporters of the amortization noted that changes helped redevelop the area, which meant the car shops were junked in favor of restaurants, a coffee shop and new apartment complexes. Mbogo, a Kenyan immigrant, and his supporters have scoffed at the gentrification.
In 2013, Mbogo won a two-year extension of his specific-use permit to stay in business. In exchange, he gave his word that he wouldn’t come back to City Hall and ask for another extension.
But in November, months after his permit had expired, Mbogo asked for another extension. He came armed with a Change.org petition with 90,000 signatures of support and the Institute for Justice’s lawyers. Neighborhood activists opposed his new permit, insinuating that Mbogo wasn’t trustworthy.
The Institute for Justice considered filing its own lawsuit against the city on Mbogo’s behalf. The group has compared amortization to eminent domain. But it isn’t exactly the same; the government isn’t taking Mbogo’s property from him. He just can’t run an auto repair shop in that spot.
That still isn’t fair, Bargil said.
“He took possession of the property with certain expectations,” Bargil said. “In the middle of the game, the city moved the goalposts on him.”
Bargil said he’s never fought amortization in court before, but the group sees Mbogo’s case as a righteous fight that Bargil acknowledged could take years. He said Mbogo is ready for the fight, too.
Mbogo is already mired in another legal fight. His former business partner is still listed as a part owner to the 1.9-acre property. Mbogo filed a lawsuit to kick him off the title, saying the man abandoned the business years ago.