ASHLAND A change to the zoning ordinances to allow for tattoo parlors and other adult personal services downtown died without a vote Thursday at the Ashland City Commission meeting.
The ordinance would have paved the way for the Garrett and Kasey Carroll, the owners of Midnite Society Tattoo on Roberts Drive, to move into the vacant store space next to Infusion Solutions. When brought up to vote, Commissioner Josh Blanton supported it, but no commissioners seconded the motion.
That effectively killed the change.
The ordinance, written in 1986, applies to businesses that are 18-plus, excluding those that serve alcohol, according to City Attorney Jim Moore. Under the ordinance, businesses that sell pornography, adult entertainment (18-plus music venues, peep shows, etc.) and “personal services” cannot be within 500 feet of a school, residential area, church, park, library, playground or “other places where minors tend to congregate,” the ordinance states.
Businesses that fall under that category are called “conditional use.”
Tattoo parlors, according to Moore, fall under that ordinance because by state law they are for patrons 18 or older. Under the city ordinance, a personal service is where a customer receives a service that is not professional (i.e. a legal consultation, a therapist appointment) or retail in nature. That broad definition would apply to barbers, manicurists, tailoring and tanning salons, the ordinance states.
“A barber shop is allowed in downtown because a 10-year-old kid who has the money can get a haircut,” Moore said. “What puts tattoo parlors under the conditional use is because they are age-restricted personal services.”
Prior to the commission vote, Paul Castle, the property owner and a member of the planning commission, presented to the commission 13 reasons for changing the ordinance to allow the tattoo shop into downtown. Castle, who said he abstained from voting on the issue in the commission to avoid a conflict of interest, noted the recommendation passed 6-1.
This is the same planning commission that unanimously voted to shoot down a liquor store due to a contingent of Baptists and neighborhood residents packing the chamber.
In his reasons, Castle said vacant store fronts in downtown aren't good for business and that the Midnite Society is an “art business and a destination business.”
“They're going to have somebody come in today from North Carolina to get a drawing on their arm,” Castle said. “Amending this ordinance does not open the door to massage parlors, strip clubs or anything like that.”
Castle continued, “They're going to be open in the evening, which is something Roger Brooks (a downtown redevelopment consultant quoted often in the city government) recommended.”
Finally, Castle said the Carrolls were “asking for help.”
“Nobody starts their business on an island,” he said. “They're here on bended knees asking for your help.”
Then the Carrolls went before the commission, with Kasey stating that she'd been “running from my hometown” for a long time, moving from big city to big city, trying to hide her roots.
“We decided that we want our son to be proud of where you're from, because people are good here and are willing to help you,” she said. “We don't want to hide, we want to be a part of this community.”
Garrett Carroll described the growth of the business as a real bootstraps venture.
“We started with one booth, then we had two booths and then we knocked down a wall and expanded,” he said. “We can go anywhere and be successful, but we want to thrive here in our hometown.”
Kasey Carroll noted that “it's already hard enough to be from Appalachia and there are so many barriers.” Her husband said the “opposite of change is stagnation” noting he was 35 and the ordinance was as old as him.
After the ordinance change was killed without a second, Blanton asked for a public discussion at the end of the meeting.
During that discussion, Blanton read emails from the public in support of the measure, quoting one as stating, “revitalizing downtown means being open to things that we don't understand.”
“We just told this business no and we need to find some compromise for them,” Blanton said. “I thought the addition of a business in downtown is better than the what ifs that aren't there.”
Blanton later stated he felt like the way the ordinance is written pretty much only excludes tattoo shops.
“I literally struggled with trying to think of another business that falls into this category,” he said. “There's none. I don't see why this is an issue.”
Commissioner Amanda Clark said she couldn't comment on or vote on the measure due to a conflict of interest. Clark later clarified that her husband and she run a small business that holds the maintenance contracts for Castle's property holdings throughout the city.
Gute said there were plenty of places for the tattoo artists to set up shop throughout the city, but he didn't believe downtown was an appropriate place – the same downtown that hosts a sex toy and lingerie shop and a pay day loan spot.
“I'm not against tattoo parlors. Look, I have seven kids – I'm only half-Catholic, if I was full I'd have 14 – and my daughters have plenty of tattoos,” he said. “I don't think this is a good location for a business like this.”
Later, Gute clarified that he felt like the ordinance as written has “done a lot for us and is good for the people who have invested millions of dollars in downtown.” Like Castle, Gute also used the Roger Brooks study as a touchstone for his position.
“This is no shot against that business, but we have to be selective in what businesses come to downtown. The Roger Brooks model is about having family-friendly attractions and if you have a business that is for adults, that's not family-friendly,” Gute said. “There's plenty of places that they can go. It's not an either/or issue.”
Commissioner Cheryl Spriggs said she didn't support changing the ordinance because of “unintended consequences.”
“I'm pro business and I used to own a business downtown. I have no problem with tattoos and I think the Carrolls are lovely. They were so kind and friendly when I met with them and that was before they became aware of who I was,” Spriggs said.
When asked what constitutes “unintended consequences,” Spriggs said, “if they're unintended, how do we know what they are?”
“That would've opened it up to anything. I'm not against tattoo parlors, I think tattoos are very neat. But I don't think we want to do something that will overturn the apple cart,” Spriggs said.
Spriggs later told the newspaper the commission needed a “minute to fix this in order for this business to come to Ashland.”
At the conclusion of the discussion, Moore reminded the commission that it has the power to sit down and do a line change to the ordinance, possibly reducing the range of the zone from 500 feet. It would then have to go to the planning commission and work its way through the proper channels.
Ashland Mayor Matthew B. Perkins, who stayed out of the kerfuffle, echoed something said last year when the commission had a split vote over a billboard for Steak ‘n’ Shake that still hangs in downtown.
“We need to review the laws and see what works for growth in downtown and what doesn't,” Perkins said. “I hope we can compromise and not just move forward with our own agendas.”
In response to the commission meeting, the Carrolls issued the following statement:
“As proud citizens of Ashland, we both are heartbroken and discouraged that an almost unanimous no was given to us today after an almost unanimous yes was given via our planning committee meeting. Historically, the commission has always taken the recommendation of the planning committee, so this no came as a shock and a devastating blow to our vision, and growth which would not only benefit us but benefit Ashland as a whole, in keeping with the new Ashland slogan and vision for Ashland ‘create with us.’ We do not understand why this was a no when the wording for the text amendment was so specific to only include tattoo shops in the zoning, rather than to just allow all adult use services. There is already tattooing in our downtown in the forms of cosmetic tattooing, so this does feel personal against us, who we are, and what we do. We love our community, and only wish to be included in its betterment and growth.”