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Pushing the auto businesses out will just speed the decline of the southern part of Haltom City and add to a glut of vacant commercial properties. ---Ron Sturgeon, HUBA
FORT WORTH, TX, October 20, 2021 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Haltom United Business Alliance (HUBA) has claimed that Haltom City Council made most of the car dealers in the city legal non-conforming as part of a package of zoning changes that were made in 2003. The pro-business group draws comparisons between this dark chapter in the city's history and council's recent restrictive actions imposed on most other kinds of auto-related businesses.
Current Haltom City Council Member Tiffany Chandler (Place 2) attempted to rebut HUBA's claim (in good faith, based on her limited knowledge) in a lengthy piece that was reposted from Haltom City Politics – The Page to Haltom City Talks, a private Facebook group owned by the councilwoman and her husband.
"Councilwoman Chandler and some of the other members of the current Haltom City Council don't seem to believe that the car dealers were made legal non-conforming by the changes in 2003," said HUBA Communications Director Joe Palmer.
"Because these individuals were not closely involved around the time that this policy was enacted, they are unfortunately less informed on the matter than those who have been affected directly ever since-the business owners, and to a great extent, the taxpaying residents," said Palmer.
According to Palmer, another part of the reason for the misunderstanding is that Haltom City staff has turned over and the institutional knowledge concerning what happened in 2003 has been lost, even though Haltom City has an exceptionally good planning department and very dedicated employees working in it. To refresh that knowledge, HUBA contacted James Pliska, the person who headed the city's planning department in 2003.
"Councilwoman Chandler (and perhaps some other members of Haltom City Council) think that the dealers were rezoned into a new category, C-5, and left as conforming in 2003," continued Palmer. However, that is true for only a very small number of the car dealers, he insists. What happened is that the city created C-5 and gave car dealers six months to come in and voluntarily rezone their properties to C-5 without paying a fee, according to Palmer.
"Those who did not do so automatically became legal non-conforming," said Palmer. Almost none of the car dealers came in due to a variety of reasons. The first step in the rezoning required the applicant to provide a current survey and site plan. Most of the car dealers rented their lots and the owners of the lots had little incentive to take the steps needed to get C-5 zoning.
Even for the lot owners who wanted to voluntarily rezone to C-5, many did not have the current survey, and the cost of getting one was a noticeable business expense. Also, the site plan that must be provided must include all the features of the lot, such as lighting, landscaping, set backs, parking, etc. This is not easily done, according to Palmer.
"Even though the city was waiving fees for the rezone, that does not mean there were not costs. To get rezoned, the car dealers often had to hire a consultant and pay for upgrades, such as added landscaping, handicapped parking, access ramps, setbacks on the barriers surrounding the lots, and so on," added Palmer.
"Because no one on the current City Council has owned a business, they might not see how hard this process is or be able to fully appreciate how frustrating it would have been for small car dealers, some of whom had been selling cars on the same lot for decades, and now were faced with completing a mountain of paperwork and absorbing a raft of costs just to get the new zoning needed for their car lots to remain a conforming use for the same type of business they had been running for many years," said Palmer.
"The devil was in the details," said Retired Haltom City Planning Director Pliska. "Many of the car dealers who wanted to make the change were actually in industrial districts, where the city's master plan and spot zoning rules prohibited C-5 zoning, so they couldn't get rezoned to C-5 even if they wanted to," said the retired public servant.
"Another key change in 2003 was that it was no longer allowed to operate a body shop and car lot at the same address or a car repair shop and a car lot at the same address," added Pliska. Many garages and body shops also sell cars, and due to the new ordinance's prohibition of overnight parking of vehicles, this was not allowed (making them legal non-conforming), according to Pliska. In some cases, these businesses could continue to operate together if they completed the steps to get a conditional use permit (a long and costly process involving public hearings) or they could become a non-conforming use. Most became non-conforming or left, he went on to say.
"These changes hit NE 28th Street really hard because the lots are so small, that once you meet all the city's requirements for setbacks, landscaping, and parking, you don't have enough land left to build anything but a small sales office and so trying to redevelop into something else is tough unless you can find a way to buy up several adjoining lots and combine them," said HUBA Member and Real Estate Developer Ron Sturgeon.
"I testified against the changes City Council made in 2003 because I knew they would drive the car dealers away, which, of course, was the intent of the Council at the time, and the city would be left with a blighted area that would be hard to redevelop," said Sturgeon.
"Councilwoman Chandler works really hard in a thankless position, and I applaud her effort to understand this better," said Sturgeon. "I wish the effort to consider what had really happened on 28th Street had come before she and all but one member of City Council voted to make hundreds of auto-related small businesses in Haltom City legal non-conforming though," said Sturgeon.
Perhaps it would not have mattered, insisted Sturgeon. "The majority of the current Haltom City Council really just didn't want any more automotive businesses and knew that the changes they just made would gradually push existing ones out and make new auto uses unlikely in Haltom City," said Sturgeon.
"By doing that they have lowered the value of the businesses, along with the real estate, and left them unable to rebuild in the event of a loss and unable to get permits to expand or make improvements so that they can keep the properties up, and they have repeated a mistake that turned NE 28th Street into the disaster that it is," said Sturgeon. Even though the apparent motive is to drive these businesses out, it is important for Council to not only understand the unintended outcomes of such a policy, but to be willing to accept responsibility for those outcomes when they affect property values throughout the city, along with the tax base," insisted Sturgeon
"I know some councilmembers were glad to see all these businesses made legal non-conforming, because forcing some of them out because we have too many is part of their program to beautify the city," said Sturgeon. "Unfortunately, the effect will be the opposite, as anyone who watched what was done to the car dealers in 2003 already knows," added Sturgeon. "To add insult to injury, the city has proposed a new Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, or TIRZ, for Belknap and Denton Highway, but left NE 28th Street out of the plan. The prior council decimated NE 28th Street, and now I guess the city is just going to write it off and not make any effort to redevelop it," said Sturgeon.
"Pushing the auto businesses out will just speed the decline of the southern part of Haltom and add to a glut of vacant commercial properties in that part of the city," Sturgeon went on to say. The longtime Haltom City business owner maintains that the council doesn't understand that the southern part of the city has different needs than the northern part, and that trying to make the southern part like their neighbors isn't the answer.
In the first week of October, Sturgeon was offered a large business park in the southern part of the city off Midway. He chose not to bid on it because he knew that when the mostly automotive businesses in the park eventually moved, the property would be much harder to rent with at least half of the uses not allowed.
"I feel sorry for the investor who buys that property, because he or she will not know or have any reason to think that all the auto tenants are legal nonconforming," said Sturgeon. This will drive rents and property values down in the area and add to vacancies and none of that is good for the city.
Roy Sullens, a local developer who spoke against the proposal recently approved to City Council that made many categories of auto businesses legal non-conforming in commercial zones and restricted new auto repair shops and tire stores to areas with industrial zoning (and only then with public hearings), said, "I've torn down old buildings and built new ones with service bays with large metal doors and configured them to appeal to automotive tenants." Sullens insists the new restrictions on those uses make his buildings harder to rent if he can find tenants for them at all.
According to HUBA's Communications Director, members of that group are gravely concerned about the ability of entrepreneurs to start new businesses in Haltom City. They believe that the requirement for conditional use permits, even for uses that are not intensive, makes it harder for businesses to start in the city.
Councilmember Chandler felt compelled to fact check HUBA's claim that dry cleaners and swimming pool accessory stores are not allowed in most commercial districts without a conditional use permit. She stated that those businesses could come to the city with public hearings in most districts, and no hearings in the industrial zones. "Who expects dry cleaners and swimming pool accessory stores to be in the industrial parts of the city, while the commercial corridors have high vacancies?" asks Sturgeon. "To my knowledge, Councilwoman Chandler and some others on council have never had to apply for a conditional use permit, and without having gone through this experience, it would be difficult to comprehend how obstructive it is and how it might restrict business development in Haltom City," said Palmer.
"Perhaps the funniest part of Councilwoman Tiffany Chandler fact check for us, at HUBA, was that Facebook took down the Haltom City Politics The Page account, for posting misleading information, (according to its administrator Eric Morris) right in the middle of the Councilwoman sharing her corrections to our materials," said Sturgeon.
"A lot of the private Facebook groups that Councilwoman Tiffany Chandler and her husband own and operate have had a problem with being taken down for posting misleading information, which is unfortunate because accurate information really helps put these debates in context," noted Sturgeon.
HUBA has proposed a new use matrix which would allow dry cleaners, as well many other low-intensity businesses, in commercial zones of Haltom City. HUBA has also presented a 3rd party study to the city with proposals for how to increase new business openings. Both submissions have yet to be acknowledged or acted upon by Council.
About Haltom United Business Alliance
Haltom United Business Alliance (HUBA) wants to make sure Haltom City is business friendly and to nurture small business growth, including automotive businesses. HUBA would also like to see more restaurants including breweries and a major grocery store come to Haltom City. HUBA is focused on strengthening the business tax base in Haltom City so that Haltom residents do not face tax increases. HUBA is also focused on reducing regulations and red tape that slow new business formation in Haltom City or impede the growth of Haltom City's existing small businesses. HUBA supports having at least two members of Haltom City Council who have owned small businesses and would like to see greater representation for members of Haltom City's Hispanic community on City Council. Although HUBA does not endorse candidates, HUBA believes that voters benefit from having a variety of qualified candidates to choose from. If you are interested in running for Haltom City Council and would like to discuss your vision for Haltom City, please contact Joe Palmer. Anyone who owns a business in Haltom City is eligible to join HUBA. Dues are $20 annually or $50 for a lifetime membership, and membership is 100% confidential. To join, contact Joe at (682) 310-0591 or by email at [email protected]. Visit the group's Facebook at Haltom United Business Alliance.
About Haltom City
Haltom City is a medium-sized city between Dallas and Fort Worth in Tarrant County, TX. The city is diverse and majority working class, with a growing population that is approximately 10% Asian-American and 45% Hispanic. Haltom City benefits from being only minutes from both DFW Airport and Downtown Fort Worth, with direct access to major highways including I-820 and SH-121. Small businesses that have historically provided products, services, and jobs to residents and are a vital part of the city's economy. Haltom City has an opportunity for continued growth through undeveloped land and many vacant buildings, especially in major corridors close to the city's center. The city has good staff and a city manager who is interested in seeing more businesses, but they can only do as directed by the council.
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