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

Azael Sepulveda is suing the city of Pasadena, Texas over its requirement that his autobody shop add 23 parking spaces he insists he doesn't need and can't afford.


Zoning laws have gotten a lot of (well-deserved) bad press lately for driving up housing costs, driving out residents, and generally forbidding people from putting their properties to their highest and best uses. Even in those few precious municipalities that lack a comprehensive zoning code, city officials still have plenty of tools to make life difficult for budding entrepreneurs.

That includes unzoned Pasadena, Texas. The city won't allow local business owner Azael Sepulveda to open an auto body shop on his own property unless he adds an additional 23 parking spaces. Sepulveda says that much parking won't fit on his property, and even if it did, the cost of creating it would be ruinous.

"I've put everything on the line to grow my business and provide for my family," he said. "I've operated with a handful of parking spaces for years and had no problem. Now the city is stopping me from achieving my dream and threatening to put me out of business."

In December, Sepulveda sued Pasadena in the District Court for Harris County. His complaint argues that the city's parking regulations violate the Texas Constitution's guarantees of economic liberty and equal protection.

Earlier this week, a Harris County judge granted Sepulveda a temporary injunction against the city, allowing him to open up at his new location while the lawsuit plays out. 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.

"It gives him a reprieve of paying both the mortgage on his property and the lease on the property that he's currently operating," Clark tells Reason. "It is true that this is just a temporary injunction. There is a risk that our client will open his new shop and then ultimately have to shut down."

Sepulveda started his first auto body shop, Oz Mechanics, back in 2013 at a rented storefront in Pasadena. In July 2021, he poured all his savings into purchasing a garage of his own.

The previous owner also had a body shop that had operated unmolested by the city for decades, leading Sepulveda to assume he wouldn't have any problems moving his own business there.

But when he applied for the permit he needed to open his business, the city told him that Pasadena's recently updated parking ordinance required auto body shops to contain 5.5 spaces for every 1,000 feet of floor space. That meant his business would have to come with 28 spaces total, or 23 more than it currently has.

According to his complaint, Sepulveda's customers rarely take up more than two parking spaces per day, something his property's existing five spaces could easily accommodate. Adding the additional 23 spaces would cost $40,000 he doesn't have, and they wouldn't even fit on the property.

That economic burden those parking requirements placed on Sepulveda's business and the physical impossibility of complying with them should have been enough to earn him a variance from the city. Indeed, city planning staff encouraged him to apply for one, which he dutifully did in October 2021.

That's when things started to get weird.

City staff initially wouldn't confirm that they'd received his application. When Sepulveda tried to drop off a $400 application fee, the city refused to 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.

Left with no other options, Sepulveda sued Pasadena in December. The lawsuit comes at a time when parking requirements are coming under increased scrutiny.

Libertarian-leaning experts argue these regulations force developers and business owners to create more parking spaces than a free market would supply. Regulation-friendly progressives dislike them for allegedly encouraging people to drive more and ride transit less.

Either way, the result of parking minimums is the overconsumption of land and higher development costs overall. Some projects, whether that's a new apartment complex or a new restaurant, are made completely uneconomical.

Because of these ill effects, cities are starting to scale back or even completely repeal their parking minimum regulations. The results are lower rents and more commercially viable properties.

Clark notes that neighboring Houston manages to get by just fine while requiring half the amount of parking for auto repair shops. The fact that other cities survive with much lower parking minimums makes Pasadena's regulations not just unnecessary but also unconstitutional, she says.

"The city can't point to any evidence for why auto repair shops in general, and specifically Mr. Sepulveda's shop, needs as many parking spaces as it's demanding," she says.

That lack of evidence combined with the burden being placed on Sepulveda's business amount to a violation of the Texas Constitution's guarantees of economic liberty and private property rights, argues his lawsuit. The complaint also claims that the city's requirement that his business comes with more parking than hotels or gyms violates Texas's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Clark says a trial date is set for early June. The case offers an opportunity to protect her client and other Pasadena business owns from regulations that impose significant costs without any real benefits.

"The city doesn't have a good reason for making these demands" on Sepulveda, she says. "Complying with these demands is physically impossible, and it's preventing him from opening his shop and ensuring his family is taken care of."

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  1. How many spaces are required for a pitchfork and torches store?

    Asking for a friend.

    1. Torches? Going to need an upgraded sprinkler system to meet fire code.

      1. Don't forget the environmental impact study for open flames.

      2. Pitchforks? Liability insurance for any injuries incurred on site will be needed. Very expensive insurance. Paid to a Swiss bank account number an associate of mine will provide shortly...

    2. I have a friend who might be interested in opening a tar & feathers store next to your friend's torches & pitchforks store.

      Do you think the state would let them share a parking lot?

    3. Can I be your friend?

    4. None, but you need 1000 feet of clear space all the way around the shop for fire safety.

  2. If he doesn’t have the space for the parking spots, just stack them one atop the other.

  3. Municipalities have done this for just about forever.

    Ever wonder why you see so many banks and churches next door to each other? It's typically the only type of commercial building combo where they are allowed to count the other's parking in their count. Banks aren't open Saturday afternoon or Sundays when churches have services. Churches aren't typically overflowing except those times.

    We have had to build a grocery store up on stilts to get parking underneath to meet the count required by one suburban community. Their parking lot is almost never even close to full.

    A casino project we did years back, the zoning by the municipality required one space per slot machine + table game chair. I've never been to a casino where every gaming position is taken. Never, not anywhere. On a typical 'busy' Saturday night, their parking lot is perhaps 20% full.

    Hopefully it will change when the automatic driverless car changes the dynamic. People will eventually subscribe to a car service where a car will come pick you up and take you where you need to go, on-demand. Like Uber but without the driver.

    1. "We have had to build a grocery store up on stilts to get parking underneath to meet the count required by one suburban community. Their parking lot is almost never even close to full."

      How did you handle the ADA required wheelchair access? Or shopping carts for that matter?

      1. Elevators.

        1. Elevators and a special shopping cart escalator. Also we had grade-level parking out front. It was weird and took a lot of site grading to make it work.

          Shopping cart escalators are quite expensive. Probably why you only see them at IKEA and Menard's.


          This guy gets to open his shop now. IJ won.

  4. "The city doesn't have a good reason for making these demands" on Sepulveda, she says.

    FYTW. Case closed.

    1. Cities Force Businesses to Oversupply Parking Spaces. A Lawsuit SaysThat's Unconstitutional.


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

        There, now I FTFY!

  5. Seems strange to have a city wanting MORE parking spaces vs fewer.

    1. It is typical 20th century policy, called into question but not abandoned in this century. For the history of parking requirements and arguments against them, see Donald Shoup's massive _The High Cost of Free Parking_. He points out that even Houston, famous for lack of zoning, has minimum parking requirements.

      1. Yeah, I live in a city where parking is penalized because there's a notion that if we had just the right transportation policy, everyone would take a ride-share e-scooter to work in their Sustainable Collective WorkPod, and preferably from the 287th floor of their Upzoned, High Density multi-use co-op building where they live in a low-impact sleep-cube.

        1. While masked and social distanced.

          1. And eat bugs, plus sleep, bathe, and fuck in public view in The Dr. Zhivago Arms Hotel....Oh! And be happy too!

  6. It's been my experience that many Mexicans require three parking spaces per family member. One for the car that's drive-able and two for the ones used for parts.

    1. Mexicans need a single parking spot for a truck containing 8 people.

  7. My first thought is that the city plans to later on tax businesses on the number of parking spaces, because 'cars bad'.

    1. They've been writing minimum parking counts into their zoning codes since at least the 1970's.

      1. Most codes were written back when most people actually went to brick and mortar stores. Codes haven't changed -e.g. a local bank wanted fewer parking spots because ATMs, on-line banking, etc. took away walk-ins. Planners argued that "well, that bank may someday be a medical center or another business that needs the spaces so you got to build them now." Some forward-looking planners allow some spots to be "reserved" - that is, not asphalted over yet but capable of being so if needed in the future.

        1. Yep, gotta allow parking spaces for all the tellers unemployed by the ATM, so the ex-tellers can go to the Unemployment Security Commission, or so Obama would say.

      2. 'Cause city meter reders gotta keep their phoney-baloney jobs! Haurmph! Harumph! Harumph!

  8. >>"The city doesn't have a good reason for making these demands"

    in a couple years Roberts will find one.

    1. And allow for parking penal-taxes?

  9. "5.5 spaces for every 1,000 feet of floor space." Oh, of course! It's science®!

  10. "'The city doesn't have a good reason for making these demands' on Sepulveda, she says."

    Is she referring to masks?

  11. Economic liberty scmiberty. Come on, man! Don't you care about the safety of people parking on your property? Next thing you know, you'll want to yell fire in a crowded Baskin-Robbins.

  12. Next, take down the ADA's stupid handicapped parking requirement!
    A restaurant near me was hit by one of the ADA scammers that goes around threatening to sue businesses. They converted one of their handful of parking spots to a handicapped space, which of course sits empty nearly all the time, cutting down their business' annual revenue.

    And all of us can go to a Target or Walmart and see the huge empty rows of handicapped spots. Repeal the ADA--it's just expensive virtue-signalling.

  13. Sounds like someone who has an in with the Pasadena city government either doesn't like Mr. Sepulveda, or has decided they want his property.

  14. I see two things at play here, first I understand the reason for the ordinance, let’s say he opens his shop everything is hunky dory but then he becomes more popular and all his spots are full and another customer drops in, what does he do…he could send them to a competitor but who wants to lose the business so he parks it on the street, I mean come on it is just one car and it would only be for a day right? Until it turns into five and then more and they are always some on the street. This happens, I have seen it so that is the reason for the ordinance. The workaround is businesses like this partner with others and buy a fenced in lot and store there overflow there but from this article it appears he did not go that route. To be clear I am neutral on this part of the story. He coulda and they coulda.

    Now for part two and this is more insidious, all the weird interactions points to one factor…a competitor did not want him to open and had his friend in city government hold up his application until they could find a reason to stop him from opening. This kinda crapatism pisses me off more than the inane bureaucratic rules.

    1. Except the thing you're not considering here is that completely orthogonally to any philosophical question regarding whether the law should exist or not, it's badly written if it doesn't take into account the difference between "floor space" and "customer area floor space".

      90+% of the area of a body shop isn't going to be a place where there are throngs of customers. Most of the area of a body shop is going to be taken up by equipment and broken cars, and the customers are going to go back there only very infrequently and with an escort, most likely.

      There are a lot of businesses where there's a large difference between the size of the facility and the amount of space that might actually have customers in it that need customer parking spaces. Any retail facility with a large back stock area, for example.

      So completely aside from any libertarian question, this just seems to be a law foolishly written by people who didn't understand what they were legislating. Again.

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