Cities Force Businesses to Oversupply Parking Spaces. A Lawsuit Says That’s Unconstitutional.

Recently, zoning laws have received a lot (and well-deserved) negative press for increasing housing costs and driving residents away. They also prohibit people from using their property to its highest and most beneficial uses. Even in the few rare municipalities without a comprehensive code of zoning, officials have many tools that can make it difficult for budding entrepreneurs.

This includes Pasadena (Texas) that is not zoned. Azael Sepulveda is prohibited from opening an auto body shop in his home without 23 more parking spaces. Sepulveda states that there is too much parking on his property. And even if it were, it would still be a huge expense.

He said, “I have put all my resources into growing my business and providing for my family.” I’ve been operating with just a few parking spots for many years without any problems. The city has stopped me from realizing my dreams and is threatening to take me out of business.”

Sepulveda sued Pasadena at the District Court for Harris County in December. He claims the parking regulations in the city violate Texas Constitution guarantees of economic liberty, equal protection.

Sepulveda was granted a temporary injunction by a Harris County Judge to allow him to move into his new home while the case continues. That’s a good sign for the lawsuit and a welcome break for his business, says Tori Clark, an attorney with the Institute for Justice—the public interest law firm representing Sepulveda.

Clark says that Clark is able to give Clark a break from paying the mortgage and lease payments on his current property. Reason. This is a temporary injunction. It is possible that the client might open his new store and have it shut down.

Sepulveda opened his first auto shop, Oz Mechanics in Pasadena in 2013. He invested all of his savings in a garage and purchased it in July 2021.

Sepulveda also knew that the previous owner owned a body shop which had been unassisted by the city for many decades. This led Sepulveda assumes that he would not have problems moving his business to there.

However, when he tried to get the Permit he required to open his shop, Pasadena’s newly updated Parking Ordinance stated that auto body shops must have 5.5 spaces per 1,000 feet. This meant that his shop would need to include 28 additional spaces. That’s 23 more than the current number.

His complaint states that Sepulveda customers seldom use more than two spaces per day. This is something the property’s five existing spaces can easily accommodate. He doesn’t own the space and the extra 23 spaces wouldn’t fit onto the property.

Sepulveda should have received a variance for the financial burden and physical inability to meet the city’s parking requirements. He was encouraged by city planners to request one in October 2021.

Then things got bizarre.

Initial staff at the city wouldn’t confirm they had received Sepulveda’s application. Sepulveda attempted to cancel his $400 application fee but the city wouldn’t accept it. That initial silence precipitated a month of back-and-forth communication between Sepulveda’s attorneys and the city; the former continually asking what the status of the application was, and the latter refusing to say why it wasn’t being considered.

Sepulveda was left without other options and sued Pasadena for damages in December. At a time parking requirements are being scrutinized more closely, the lawsuit was filed in December.

Experts of libertarian leaning argue that these regulations make it more difficult for developers and businesses to build parking lots than is possible in a free market. They are disliked by progressives who favor regulations because they encourage people to take transit more than driving.

Parking minimums can have a negative impact on land use and increase overall development costs. Sometimes projects are completely ineligible, such as a restaurant or apartment building.

Cities are beginning to relax or completely eliminate parking restrictions due to these negative consequences. This results in lower rents, and commercially more viable properties.

Clark points out that Houston, a neighbor, is able to make it work while only requiring half as much parking space for repair shops. Pasadena’s regulations, which have lower minimum parking requirements than other cities, are not only unnecessary but unconstitutional she states.

She says, “The city cannot point to any evidence why auto repair shops, specifically Mr. Sepulveda, need as many parking spaces it demands.”

Sepulveda claims that this lack of evidence, combined with Sepulveda placing a burden on Sepulveda’s business, amounts to a violation Texas Constitution’s guarantees economic liberty and private property right. The city required that Sepulveda’s business have parking spaces that are larger than those of hotels and gyms. This is alleged in the lawsuit.

Clark states that a trial date has been set for June. It is an opportunity to safeguard her client as well as other Pasadena-based businesses from regulations that could impose high costs and not provide any benefits.

Sepulveda says she doesn’t believe the city has a valid reason to demand Sepulveda. He said, “Complimenting with these demands would be physically impossible. It is keeping him from opening his store and making sure his family is taken good care of.”