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Arlington council spares used car dealers east of State Highway 360 in city development code update

Four cars sit in front of Jeff Anderson Auto Group, which is a white building with a black-and-blue sign. Roller coasters from Six Flags Over Texas loom in the background, cut off by State Highway 360.
Kailey Broussard
Arlington City Council considered a policy amendment that prohibits used car dealerships from operating in the entertainment district. Existing dealerships would be able to continue operations but would not be able to substantially expand their building or rebuild.

Used car dealers in Arlington’s entertainment district east of State Highway 360 will not be affected by a change to city development codes after several business owners raised concerns with the proposal.

Arlington Planning and Development Services recommended prohibiting used motor vehicle auto sales in the entertainment district as part of the city’s yearly update to what’s known as the Unified Development Code.

The change as originally written would have grandfathered existing dealerships – in other words, they could continue operations but would be limited in how they could rebuild their businesses or renovate.

However, council approved a different version Tuesday night that excluded businesses east of State Highway 360. Council unanimously approved the annual update.

Before the change, several business owners including Jorge Zamudio of Zmm Auto made their cases to city council to continue operating as is. Zamudio said in an interview his auto repair business just off State Highway 360 provides a lifeline for people with limited transportation options.

“A lot of the citizens, they can’t just go to a new car dealer and always just, you know, get a new car. It’s very difficult nowadays, so we’re kind of their last option,” he said.

Patricia Sinel, city long-range planning manager, said her department suggested the proposal because the city has spent years tightening its regulations surrounding used car dealerships.

In 2022, the city received an influx of applications for Certificates of Occupancy (CO) for used car dealerships because of a policy change at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Businesses renewing or applying for their license to operate had to provide proof they had a CO to operate rather than just checking a box on a form.

The state policy change revealed that Arlington had around 430 dealerships in town at the time, over half of which operated in places not zoned for used car sales. As of December, the city counted about 260 dealers, 90 of which did not have valid certificates of occupancies.

“We had a lot of dealers come in and we had to turn a lot of them down because they were not in a zoning district that allowed used auto sales,” Sinel said.

The city has since made changes to the city’s Unified Development Code, a master list of development regulations and standards.

Sinel said automotive service centers were already prohibited in the entertainment district.

“Based on prior direction from council, we made that suggestion to the Municipal Policy Committee whether or not this was the direction they wanted to take … just based on the purpose and the intent of the entertainment district itself and if that was the vision that council had for the entertainment district if you’re coming off 360 on Division Street,” Sinel said. “Did we intend to target everybody? Absolutely not."

Arlington's Entertainment District Overlay encompasses the area around AT&T Stadium, Choctaw Stadium and Six Flags Over Texas. The overlay also stretches east of State Highway 360. The city has seven overlays, which are zoning designations for areas with specific development needs.

Several business owners, including Zamudio, wrote letters that urged council to spare their businesses, which lie on the easternmost edge of the entertainment district and are zoned for industrial manufacturing – a designation that would otherwise allow them to operate their businesses.

Hassan Rahmati said in a letter to Arlington City Council that he has poured his heart and soul into his auto service properties since 1994, when he bought 800 and 804 Watson Road. He now rents his property to business owners like Zamudio and says business operations across his properties have generated millions in annual revenue.

“I have been with this area since the beginning and have watched it grow to the Arlington we know and love today. As someone who has done business on this road for the past thirty years … I ask that you please allow me to continue growing this area through the car industry,” Rahmati wrote.

Heather Moreno with Lawler Motor Sports, Inc., said she was concerned with the implications of having a building that is considered legally non-conforming. The designation would make it harder for her business to receive a loan. The change would also mean she and other business owners could not rebuild if more than half of the fair market value of the structure was damaged in a natural disaster.

“Can you imagine suffering something that would already be such a devastating experience only to find that you also lost your ability to continue your ongoing business operations?” she wrote.

This story was updated to include Arlington City Council's decision to approve changes to the Unified Development Code. 

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Kailey Broussard is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). Broussard covers the city of Arlington, with a focus on local and county government accountability.