Small business owner fights city's parking ordinance that could possibly shut his shop down

PASADENA, Texas (KTRK) -- A mechanic in Pasadena is ready to buy a new shop, however, a newly-instated city parking ordinance could force him to shut down his business.

Azael Sepulveda, known as Oz, has owned Oz Mechanics in Pasadena for several years and he's finally ready to expand. He said he found a building along Shaver Street that was previously a fabricating business that he could convert into his dream mechanic shop.

"We looked into it about a year ago, but being a small business owner, it's kind of hard to get loans and that's what we're trying to do," Sepulveda said. "We're going through different banks, and we couldn't really find anything so, I had to put my home as collateral. We had to get a home equity loan to get this [building] here."

It would be the first building he's owned as a small business owner, but a new parking ordinance may put that plan in jeopardy.

According to the city of Pasadena's planning department, in order for the mechanic shop to meet industry standards, the building would need 28 parking spots.

Sepulveda said a new lot would cost him roughly between $30,000 to $40,000, and the current space could only allot for possibly 17 parking spots.

"I got a couple options I can do," Sepulveda said. "Selling my shop, and staying here and just go through it. Or, try to put the parking spaces in there, and hopefully not go bankrupt."

This new ordinance only applies to new businesses, not established businesses.

Sepulveda would also be changing the use of the building, which is common in cities that don't have zoning laws like Houston.

Director of the Kinder Institute of Urban Research at Rice University, Bill Fulton, said city ordinances like this can force small businesses to stay in the same building for decades and discourage them from expanding to a different location.

"A business owner like this is put in a position to basically having to tear down the building that his business is in in order to provide the parking for the business which means his business won't work," Fulton said. "It's tough to try to retrofit an existing neighborhood with parking requirements that sort of assume you have plenty of land and you're out in the middle of nowhere. That's what's happening here and what happens in many cases."

Fulton said other small businesses may face similar issues and there are some alternatives available.

"It all depends on the situation. There are a couple of things that typically can be done. One is that you can accept the fact that there's more on-street parking [and] that people are going to need to park on the street more," he said. "That is an available supply of parking in many neighborhoods. Another thing that happens in many communities and many neighborhoods is that the city, or maybe the management district, can create a centralized parking facility so that everybody in the neighborhood parks in one location."

Sepulveda said he's planning to apply for a variance through the city of Pasadena to see if there can be an exception for this case, which city council would have to vote to approve.

The director of the city of Pasadena's planning department released the following statement regarding this case:

"On July 28, 2021, Mr. Azael Sepulveda submitted a Land Use Compliance Review for 1615 Shaver. The Planning Department denied the land use because the location does not have adequate parking that complies with the Pasadena parking ordinance. Ten parking spaces per 1,000 square feet is required for auto repair. The parking ordinance was updated in January 2021 based on parking standards in Texas municipalities. Previously, the requirement for auto repair was five spaces per 1,000 square feet. Even under the previous parking requirement, Mr. Sepulveda would have been denied. The new parking code requirements do not apply to existing, previously permitted businesses. Mr. Sepulveda's proposed business is change of use at 1615 Shaver. The previous permit at this location was machine shop. A change of use, machine shop to auto repair, requires compliance with the parking ordinance. The Planning Department suggested to Mr. Sepulveda that one option would be to request variance from the parking ordinance. In Pasadena, variance requests are reviewed by the Planning Commission prior to consideration by City Council. City Council may choose to grant variance. The Planning Department is available assist Mr. Sepulveda through that process. The City's Land Use Compliance Review is designed to assist local business prior to leasing or buying a property. The review is free. The Planning Department and Public Works will review the proposed land use and location to determine: 1) will this land use be permitted at this location; and/or 2) what site improvements are needed prior to permit. We recommend all businesses use this free service prior to leasing a new location or buying new property."

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