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Business Owners Voice Their Opposition as Haltom City Council Moves Ahead to Restrict New Auto-Related Businesses and Make Existing Ones Legal Non-Conforming

Business owners say city's action will lower the value of their businesses & makes expanding or rebuilding after a loss impossible

HALTOM CITY, TX, August 03, 2021 /24-7PressRelease/ -- At the Haltom City Council meeting on July 26, 2021, the agenda item that excited the most public comment was a first reading of an ordinance that amends Haltom City's Use Matrix to restrict new auto-related uses, such as auto repair shops and tire stores, to the industrial and heavy industrial districts of Haltom City.

The proposed change to the ordinance also makes many kinds of auto-related businesses that are in areas with commercial zoning legal non-conforming, a status that means the business can continue to operate, but it cannot get permits to rebuild in the event of a fire or other loss or to expand under the current use.

"City Council members certainly got an earful at the last meeting from owners of businesses that this proposal will affect," said Haltom United Business Alliance (HUBA) Director of Communications Joe Palmer.

HUBA is a group of local business owners seeking to attract more small businesses to Haltom City and to make the city more business friendly. "The members of the public who came to speak to council were predominately against the proposal as were those in the audience," said Palmer.

"I also spoke and made the point that requiring a conditional use permit for these auto uses even in industrial districts will slow new business formation in a segment that has always been a significant part of Haltom City's economy," added Palmer.

The problem with CUPs slowing business formation affects many types of businesses in Haltom City, not just automotive, according to Palmer. "Even low intensity uses like drop off dry cleaners or swimming pool supply and accessory stores require conditional use permits in the light commercial zones," said Palmer.

HUBA has asked the city to take a comprehensive look at all the uses in the city's use matrix to make sure they are placed on the table in a way that aligns with the city's own definitions of the types of businesses allowed in each zone and that CUPs are required only when warranted because getting a CUP takes several rounds of public hearings and delays start-ups for months.

In a study of the factors inhibiting small business growth done by faculty at Florida Gulf Coast University's Business School, many of the executives the scholars polled cited land use restrictions and permitting issues as the most significant local regulatory issues preventing them from expanding.

The proposed changes to the table of uses for auto uses will cost the city revenue because of lost ad valorem and sales taxes and the city will have to make up for the shortfall somehow, according to Palmer.

"Perhaps the worst feature of the proposal is that it makes all the auto uses that are changed on the matrix legal non-conforming, even the ones in the industrial and heavy industrial zones, unless they already have a conditional use permit," said Palmer.

"Additionally, these new restrictions will force the businesses that are most successful in these categories and need to expand to leave Haltom City because they will be unable to get the permits to add a service bay or make other improvements to grow," predicted Palmer.

"As many of the passionate business owners who spoke said, the change will also lower the value of all the existing businesses in these categories by making them legal non-conforming," added Palmer.

Roy Sullins, a developer who has built 14 commercial buildings in Haltom City since 1995, noted that four of his buildings are in the commercial zone (c1, c2, c3) of Haltom City and would no longer be able to have automotive use tenants if the city were to pass the new restrictions. Taking away the possibility of renting those spaces to automotive uses makes his buildings less valuable, he said, as he urged Haltom City Council not to pass the amendment.

Jennifer Knittel read a statement by HUBA Executive Director Drew Weakley, who could not attend because he had Covid. In the statement, Weakley made the point, backed by the findings of a third-party study, that this change to Haltom City's Use Matrix will make it significantly more restrictive than Watauga, North Richland Hills or Fort Worth for these auto uses and that this will cause them to face a difficult choice of locating their business elsewhere.

"Some of those who spoke in favor of the amendment seemed to believe that the auto-related businesses were somehow to blame for Haltom City not having a grocery store and seemed to suggest that if Haltom City Council were to restrict the auto businesses to heavy industrial zones, somehow that would help the city get a grocery store," said Weakley.

Weakley insisted that there is no evidence to support that and some evidence to show that the opposite is true.

Charlie Roberts, the one vote against the amendment, rightly pointed out that Haltom City has no studies that connect auto-related businesses to the lack of a grocery store. When he asked City Manager Rex Phelps whether any such study existed. Phelps answered, no sir. Roberts noted that he had lived in Haltom City long enough to remember when it had a Sack and Save, Kroger, and Save-a-lot, all of which had coexisted with the auto uses.

Weakley insisted that HUBA would like to see a grocery store return to Haltom City and that HUBA Member Ron Sturgeon has even pledged $150,000 investment to find and prepare a site for a grocery store in the central part of the city and is actively seeking other investors to join the effort.

"Businesses tend to want to come to cities where zoning and use rules are stable and predictable," said Weakley. "The fact that all but one member of Haltom City Council seems to be in a hurry to make hundreds of Haltom City businesses legal non-conforming in a key sector for the city with little debate or input from the affected businesses won't improve our chances of getting a grocery store," said Weakley.

"It's pretty clear that most of the members of Haltom City Council don't care that this proposal will gradually force out hundreds of auto-related businesses that have been contributing to the city's tax base for years," said HUBA Member Ron Sturgeon, who was not at the council meeting but offered some comments after viewing it online.

"Maybe those who voted yes just haven't driven through South and Central Haltom City and seen the many vacant commercial properties and maybe they don't know that retail and office are probably never coming back," added Sturgeon.

"The current members of City Council should take a lesson from what was done to the car dealers in 2002," said Sturgeon. A similar ordinance made them legal non-conforming and a lot of them moved away because they were unable to get permits to expand or improve their properties, according to Sturgeon.

"The current Council is basically doubling down on the policy mistake that created NE 28th because they are embarking on a path that will gradually force out auto related-businesses they don't like with no plan to replace them and no vision for redevelopment once they leave," said Sturgeon.

"A lot of the owners affected by these restrictions are wondering how the city can strip value from hundreds of local businesses and not expect to have to compensate the owners in some way, and I think they have a valid point," added Sturgeon.

The ordinance is scheduled for a second reading before City Council on Monday, August 9. If there is an opportunity for more public comment at this meeting, Weakley said he expects that many members of the business community, who are just hearing about the ordinance, will want to weigh in.

Weakley noted that the city did not notify affected businesses of the ordinance, and that many Haltom City business owners first learned of it from HUBA.

About Haltom United Business Alliance

Haltom United Business Alliance (HUBA) wants to give members of Haltom City's business community an advocate and to keep those businesses informed about issues that affect them. They want to make sure Haltom City is business friendly and nurture small business growth, including automotive businesses, and bring more restaurants including breweries and a major grocery store to the city. New businesses and growth in existing businesses will create a stronger tax base which will allow the city to pay its first responders wages that are competitive with surrounding cities while improving Haltom City's facilities and infrastructure. Anyone who owns a business in Haltom City is eligible to join. Dues are $20 annually or $50 for a lifetime membership, and membership is 100% confidential. To join, contact Drew Weakley at (682) 310-0591 or by email at 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, Texas. 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 included a once thriving automotive industry. The city has seen a decline in small businesses, especially automotive businesses. The city is healthy financially, with median household income growing around 8% in the past year. Haltom City has 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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