NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — A fight is brewing in North Richland Hills, where a popular car club has been told it can no longer hold its weekly meets at an area restaurant.
The group is known as Texas Imports Today, and it boasts 5,000 members locally and 10,000 followers across the country.
On Sunday nights for the past 10 months, the car enthusiasts have been gathering in the parking lot of Beef O'Brady's Irish Pub in the 8200 block of Precinct Line Road.
"There are people who drive three hours just to be here on a Sunday," said founder Chaz Hawkins.
On many Sundays, as many as 600 cars fill the parking lot. Many of the visitors are younger enthusiasts, in their teens and 20s, but Hawkins said many families regularly attend the event.
"Really, this is a part of my life," Hawkins said after learning of the city's decision. "I get emotional about it. I wanted to cry."
Under the current law, events like the one Hawkins has been hosting can only be held once every 12 months. Certain permits would allow for similar events as many four times a year, but not more often than that.
"When these events take place, we're all for the businesses," said David Pendley, the chief building official in North Richland Hills. "But what they can do is encroach on the other businesses that are there. There's noise; there's trash issues that could come up."
Since June, the police department has investigated 12 reports of loud music, loud exhaust noise from vehicles, and racing.
Texas Imports Today has hired police officers to work at the events and has a staff of volunteers to reserve parking for neighboring businesses.
The group's founder points out that they have rules in place to keep things orderly. Still, city officials say the event falls under the temporary use ordinance.
While a majority of neighboring businesses are closed during the monthly car meet, neighboring businesses include a dry cleaners, restaurant, and urgent care facility.
"For them to just knock it out, that hurts not just us, but business all around us," Hawkins argued.
Dawn Carlton with Beef O'Brady's says the event has boosted business significantly and increased exposure to the area.
"[We've been exposed to] more people than we could have dreamed," Carlton said. "It's really been a blessing."
Carlton said Sunday had become restaurant's busiest night of the week.
Jared Guynes is the founder of RiceKiller, another popular North Texas-based car group. Guynes said the issue facing Texas Imports Today is similar to what he's encountered during nine years of organizing car-related events.
"The law [Texas Imports Today] is up against is a tough one," Guynes said. "No one has been able to overcome it."
While organizing events in the past, Guynes has hosted car meets at schools, car dealerships, and other places that are confined.
"Big meets," Guynes says — like the weekly meet in North Richland Hills — "Every one of them has an expiration date."
He says finding the perfect environment will be a challenge and that Texas Imports Today will likely have to look to new partners or businesses for support.
"I hope some city or municipality will embrace this idea to give people like Chaz a place to go; turn this into a positive thing."
For now, Texas Imports Today and its members will try meeting in a city park, but with fewer available parking spaces, Hawkins says they will quickly outgrow that space. And the consistency they found at the North Richland Hills restaurant will be hard to re-establish.
"I want to make sure our car enthusiast world stays intact," said Hawkins. "Once this is gone, it hurts a lot of people."
"TV movies: They really portray us as people just driving around doing reckless things, and we're trying to change that," Hawkins added. "We want everyone to be together, and everyone is really a big, huge family here."
A classic car meet that happens on Saturdays at Beef O'Brady's is also affected by the temporary use ordinance. A spokesperson with the North Richland Hills Police Department said all sides are working on a long-term solution to the issue.