DALLAS -- Inside Hinga Auto Repair, the staff is still hard at work. But the shop’s owner is on pins and needles, wondering how long he can stay open.
”We’ve had like a cloud over our head,” Hinga Mbogo said. “We’ve been operating, not knowing what’s going to happen the next day.”
Mbogo has been in a legal battle against the City of Dallas since April 2016, when city councilmembers denied his request for an extension to keep his auto repair business open.
A lawsuit was filed against Mbogo in July. The City of Dallas is seeking civil penalties against the businessman.
Interim City Attorney Chris Bowers says the businessman is operating a vehicle repair facility at 3516 Ross Avenue, even though it is not allowed to operate under current zoning.
“The law allows to seek up to $1,000 per day for violations,” Bowers said.
The controversy between Hinga Auto Repair and the City of Dallas, however, dates back several years to when Dallas rezoned the area. It was a move that shut down several East Dallas auto businesses along Ross Avenue.
Mbogo has been fighting to protect his property the longest.
“We have been at this location for 30 years, and we have served the community," Mbogo said. "Now, all of a sudden, the city puts a cap on how long you can be here. That’s very unfair.”
The change was not all that sudden, however.
Mbogo was granted an extension to stay in his location by the city back in 2010. After that extension ran out, Mbogo again went before the council in 2013. Mbogo agreed to a compromise in that 2013 meeting that if he would be granted one more two-year extension, he would not ask for another one.
But Mbogo did not sell or move the business during the second extension, and in 2016, council opted not to give him a third, as both sides had agreed.
- 4/13/16: East Dallas auto shop must close after council vote
- 7/6/16: City files lawsuit against auto shop owner who refuses to move
The Institute for Justice has taken interest in Hinga Mbogo’s case. Its staff believes the city’s alleged attempt to retroactively zone Hinga off of Ross Avenue is unconstitutional.
A team with the Institute for Justice, including several attorneys, helped organize a rally outside Hinga Auto Repair. The gathering was for neighbors and supporters on the eve of the first district court hearing in the case between Mbogo and the City of Dallas.
Lawyers with the Institute for Justice are hoping the court will grant an injunction that will stop the daily fines against Mbogo.
”It’s been rough,” Mbogo said.
Along Ross Avenue, neighbors are witnessing changes the city’s zoning decisions brought about. Old buildings are being demolished. New apartments, Bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses are becoming part of the new gateway into the downtown Arts District.
”Some of it was definitely needed, and some of it, I think they just kind of got greedy on,” Ginger Bisbing said.
She has worked as a florist on Ross Avenue for nearly 20 years.
”I think it needs to be a gateway into the Arts District, and I think that we need it,” Bisbing said, “but at the same time, people have got to get their car fixed. And if you’re in this area, and he’s convenient, why make him leave?”
Mbogo said his legal fight has become about more than just his case. He says it is also about protecting the property rights of other small businesses.
”They put me up against a brick wall,” Mbogo said. “I didn’t have a chance.”
The City Attorney’s office explained zoning changed in the Ross Avenue area after a commissioned study that determined, in part, vehicle repair centers were no longer viable in the neighborhood.
Bowers believes there certainly is a place where Hinga could lawfully operate his auto repair shop. The city, however, wants him to relocate, as other facilities have and as he had agreed to.