The Palm Coast Planning Board on Wednesday unanimously approved the special exception application of Supreme Custom Tattoo to set up shop on the second floor of a commercial building at 29 Old Kings Road owned by Tony Amaral’s Aqua Investments.
On its face it was an unremarkable, 15-minute hearing for the new shop, which will be a 700-square-foot operation operated by the wife-and-husband team of Kristen and Fabian Fuentes, who are new Palm Coast residents, from Colorado. The couple describe their new business as “family oriented.”
But it is a sign of the discrimination and stigma that attaches to tattoo businesses that those businesses, though no different from hair salons or barber shops, ice cream parlors or bookshops, must still seek a “special exception” under Palm Coast’s code of ordinance to be located in certain commercial areas. Some landlords–not all, of course–profit from such exceptions to deny leases to prospective tattoo studios.
That’s why the Planning Board hearing was necessary, as was the requirement for the owner to apply for the special exception–as neither would have been had it been another kind of “personal care service,” a landscaping business, a funeral home, a pet store, a florist or a gas and convenience store. The planning board could have denied the request, just as landlords sometimes deny leases.
“I believe the classification of tattoo studios is based on an outdated stereotype dating back to a time when local governments assumed only sailors on drunken shore leave and motorcycle gang members patronized such businesses,” said Bob Cuff, a former Palm Coast City Council member and an attorney. “This lead to a further assumption that the government had to strictly control where the studios were located to keep ‘undesirables’ away from normal taxpayers and ‘legitimate’ businesses. In today’s culture, with people of all ages and social strata choosing to have tattoos, I can see no purpose served by special restrictions unless planning professionals can produce credible statistics showing a significantly higher crime rate/police calls to tattoo studios compared to other personal service type businesses.”
Those outdated stereotypes continue, says Michael Biller, owner of Devoted Tattoo Studio on Palm Coast Parkway, but not from the city. “It might be a hindrance, but mostly it’s the freaking plaza owners,” Biller said. He recalls applying for the special exception a decade ago, when he was in his early 30s, and facing a roomful of considerably older city officials. “I was crapping my pants, I thought I was going to be told no, and they gave me astounding yesses across the board,” he said, crediting city staff: “The city will make it happen because they want to promote new businesses.”
Landlords, on the other hand, have not been nearly as accommodating. Biller has been looking to expand in new shopping plazas along State Road 100, in Volusia County, in St. Johns, but again and again, landlords have turned him down, at times using zoning rules as a cover. When he tells them he can get a special exception, they turn him down anyway. For example, no tattoo studio will be allowed in a shopping center with a Publix store. “It’s basically discrimination–they basically say we don’t allow tattoo shops,” Biller said.
“I feel like there’s still a stigma attached to the fact that tattoos were done mostly by bikers and inmate, it’s still frowned upon,” Biller said of the old assumptions, which no longer prevail. “They don’t realize tattooing is actually a billion-dollar industry and actually benefits your plaza.” Where Devoted Tattoo Studio is now, for instance, has an anchor effect for that strip. (MarketResearch.com reports that tattooing alone is a $1.35 billion industry, not counting body piercing and “the burgeoning $694 million tattoo removal market,” which together add up to a $3 billion industry.)
Tattoo studios deal with some biomedical waste and have to have a certain area deemed allowable for that, which could also explain the special exception. But funeral parlors deal in biomedical waste, too, and don’t have to comply with the same exception, at least not in the “Com 2” designation such as the one on Old Kings Road. (A special exception is required for funeral parlors in Com 1.)
The area where Supreme Custom Tattoo is setting up in an existing office building is already zoned general commercial. There’s an apartment complex across the street, and I-95 on the west side, past a line of trees. There’s a beauty salon, a pawn shop, a tobacco shop, medical labs, a photography studio and other uses in the complex.
“The proposed tattoo studio is not in conflict with or contrary to the public interest as it it will be located within an existing commercial office building with a variety of commercial tenants,” city planner Estelle Lens told the planning board. “The building and the adjacent commercial corridor have a wide variety of commercial uses that function well together, and this business will fit in with the other businesses at this location.”
“Is this the first tattoo establishment within the city of Palm Coast?” a planning board member asked. It isn’t, Ray Tyner, the deputy chief development officer, said. There are at least four such studios in the city (Devoted, Elite Custom, Overlord, and Sacred Moon).
“Why is there a need for a special exception?” the board member asked. Tyner responded by outlining what’s in the city’s Land Development Code, but he did not explain why the requirement for an exception is in the code in the first place.
“Basically,” Tyner said, “a special exception is a use that may have you want to look at a little bit further more detail and maybe add special conditions to make it a little bit more compatible with the adjoining properties or the neighborhood.” As to why a tattoo studio would have to go be made more compatible with its surroundings–that question was not asked or answered.
A board member asked what regulatory body oversees such businesses. A fellow- board member said it’s the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR). It is not. Tattoo studios are licensed by the Department of Health, through the county’s health department. The board member was also curious about age regulations. Children as young as 16 may get tattoos as long as they’re accompanied by a parent or guardian, or have a consent form.
Supreme Custom Tattoo already has a lease, as required by city ordinance. (Biller had one suggestion to the city: requiring a lease in hand first, for a special exception, can make it harder for businesses to secure a lease, given the discrimination against such businesses.)
“We moved here to Palm Coast, or as my wife likes to call it, our little paradise, two years ago from Colorado,” Fabien Fuentes told the planning board. “I’ve been tattooing for almost 20 years now. And my wife is a local audiologist here in here in Palm Coast.” The business will operate by appointment only, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days, an hour later on weekends. Fuentes also described himself as a “traveling artist” who goes to different states for his work. He has been working locally at Elite Custom Tattooing for the past year. His wife will be doing the body piercing.
The application drew no objections–neither opposition nor public comment, in writing or in person, though, curiously, when the required notice of the hearing was mailed to the Kings Colony Homeowners Association, it was refused.
In a brief text in answer to a question about the required special exception, Palm Coast Mayor this afternoon wrote, in reference to the city’s strategic action plan: “Code needs to be updated. Part of current SAP process.”
I believe there is truth to the stigmas, which will fade over time. Young people see tattoos differently than past generations. A tattoo parlor should be able to exist within commercially zoned areas, and not require a special exception. It’s a business that follows rules.
Personally, I don’t care for tattoos. They look, to me, like bruising and broken blood vessels. People throughout history have had different forms of body art, whether it’s ink or scarring. However, I think that most of these markings were earned within the tribe. The marks meant something to the tribe members that they all understood. It looks like most people today, have a mishmash of designs that I wonder if they really mean anything. Sometimes, it’s regretted. Surely people change their minds as they get older. Meanwhile, in my opinion, no woman looks good in a ballgown, bridal dress or simply formal wear, with tattoos.
But, to each their own, and I support that. Happy inking.
I believe most tattoos have a story.
Mine do and I’m 63. Just got my last one a year ago.
To each his own.
Willy Boy says
…. as society slowly devolves, images of Lee Trevino’s band-aid covered forearm, former Sec. of State George Schultz’s tiger adorned buttock (never actually saw that one), or that old trucker’s punch line “it don’t say Shorty – it’s Shorty’s Bar and Grille”.
The Sour Kraut says
Agreed. I strongly dislike them but everyone should have the right to make up their own mind. It is their body. Of course, Desantis may decide to make it his choice. He seems to think he should be able to impose his will on others.