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Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of Tattoo Studio Permit

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CAROLINA BEACH - The Carolina Beach Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously recommended Town Council approve of a request to open a Tattoo Studio on N. Lake Park Blvd during their Thursday February 14, meeting.  The decision will now be considered by the Council at their April 9, meeting.
The applicant, Dixon Broadfoot, is asking for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for a tattoo studio called Pleasure Island Tattoo located at 1009 N. Lake Park Blvd unit B-2.  Tattoo Studios are permissible under a CUP in the Highway Business (HB) zoning district. The proposed tattoo studio will be located in an existing 960 sq. ft. unit in the Pleasure Island Plaza. The prior use was Island Pet Shop.
The plaza was built in 1984 as a 14 unit condo commercial structure. The applicant proposes tattooing, permanent cosmetic make-up, and an art gallery. The proposed hours of operation are 11:00am -9:00pm. The applicant does not propose any additions or changes to the existing building footprint.
The Carolina Beach Town Council voted at their January 8, meeting to allow tattoo studios in the Highway Business District (Lake Park Blvd).
The Council voted three to two in favor of permitting them as a Conditional Use in the Highway Business (HB) district. New studios have to obtain a Conditional Use Permit and meet certain conditions including hours of operation from 8AM to 9PM and a certain distance from residential districts, a church or school, public parks, playgrounds, libraries and other tattoo studio establishments. Those permits are reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission and then by the Town Council who ultimately approves or denies issuing a permit. Body piercing was originally requested as an allowable use along with Tattoo Studios, but the Council did not vote to permit piercing.
A the Planning Commission's February 14, meeting Paul Watkins said he plans to open two new businesses in the Plaza and said after calling a Nationwide Insurance agent, "I did not know because of his presence there insurance rates would be higher than they otherwise would be. I immediately started to ask around, I have some pretty good friends in the insurance business... and though only one which is the senior underwriter with Johnson and Johnson would give me a written response. It was pretty universal that off the record, apparently when you open a business and you put in a request for insurance you have a site inspection by your insurance agent and if there is a tattoo parlor in your facility your rates are not what they would be otherwise."
He explained, "That came as a total surprise to me" and he had not yet had time to research the reason for increased insurance cost.
Watkins said, "I have a couple of questions for Mr. Dixon at this point... the only reason that the insurance rates would go up is if there was catastrophic loss, or loss at all, or the perception of loss, or something out of the ordinary or some sort of element that would increase risk for the folks around them."
The Commission asked for a copy of correspondence from an insurance company.
Commission Chairman Greg Reynolds read a copy of a document from Johnson and Johnson stating, "Unacceptable tenant in the eyes of the carrier. The addition of a tattoo parlor to the shopping plaza would eliminate the availability of any pricing discounts for the entire account. This is not an occupant that is favorable for the company."
Another unit owner within the Plaza, Bob McKoy, said he has a "national tenant" that stated they would not renew their lease. He said, "I'm here speaking about the economic impact. So it's an economic impact on me and possibly other unit owners. Sure, we can probably rent to someone else but maybe a lesser type tenant at a lesser rent rate. I think consideration of economic impact should receive great consideration."
Ken Horne, owner of an insurance company in the plaza, said their rules require "a like kind and quality of business" and a section in the Conditional Use Permit requires compatible businesses.
Horne said, "Let me get away from a tattoo parlor. A church is not compatible with Pleasure Island Plaza. It ain't got nothing to do with a tattoo parlor, it has everything to do with compatibility."
He referred to the letter presented to the Commission by Johnson and Johnson and said, "That happens to be the insuring company that is insuring Pleasure Island Plaza. And what they are saying to us is if we allow that kind of tenant to come in to that community that our rates go up."
He explained, "It will be an impact not only on the association, but on every unit owner in that association. So if they can see that, I can't understand why the Council did not see it. It's confusing to me. Again, it has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a tattoo parlor. It has everything to do with the fact that it is not what we would consider to be an A-rated business."
He said a tattoo parlor is not similar to law or real estate offices. He said allowing a tattoo parlor is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Horne said insurance companies look at surrounding businesses and, "They realize that those kinds of businesses, whether we agree or not is immaterial, will increase risk therefore they are subject to more liability claims and they're going to take away discounts. Right now we have policy that quite frankly has been discounted as low as you can get. Obviously I wrote the policy so I would know that. I know that at renewal it’s going to cost that association four or five thousand dollars."
Horne said real estate offices that conduct credit checks may not be able maintain their licenses for those checks if they have neighbors such as a bar, tattoo parlor or a church.
Chairman Reynolds said the Commission has to review set criteria and the decision will go forward to the Council regardless of their recommendation.
Broadfoot said, "18-years I've been in this business and I've owned multiple properties and had to get insurance, I have never once heard that before in the whole time I've been buying property and doing this business ever. Never heard anything about that. That's strictly biased. He owns Pleasure Island Insurance. He is part of this association"... and, "I feel it’s one-sided."
 He explained, "All I'm doing is art. I'm not affecting any of my neighbors around me. It's basically drawing on skin. It's no different than if I were drawing on you with a magic marker I'm just doing it with a needle and bandaging up and you're leaving. There is no possible way I would have any affect on anybody else’s business there in any negative way that would cause their insurance to go up. That's just hearsay. These guys are in the HOA and are just biased."
Horne said, "I've been in the business 41 years, I'm not about to stand in front of Planning and Zoning and lie."
Reynolds said the issue of insurance should have been brought up to the Council when they voted earlier this year. He said, "Our job is to see if what they passed, if this meets the conditional use permit requirements."
Reynolds said it’s not his place to decide who is right on the insurance issue and that may be an operational cost verses property value.
Commissioner Ked Cottrell said, "I need to see hard evidence about that, with the insurance and property values. I think we need to be presented with documentation from multiple sources that support that."
Alan Gilbert told the Commission the Town's Land Use Plan speaks about "family oriented businesses."
He said, "If you want to put forward businesses that aren't family oriented you might need to consider changing the land use plan or the master plan."
He said the Council decided to approve of a business use that is in conflict with their Land Use Plan and Master Plan which are both mandated by State Law requiring consistency.
 Because of that, he said opponents have an option to challenge such decisions in superior court.
Broadfoot said there are many types of businesses in Town that aren't considered family oriented other than bars. He said families often visited his previous businesses when one member was getting a tattoo.
He said his business will meet the requirements and criteria of the conditional use permit.
Chairman Reynolds said the Land Use Plan does not limit the Town to only family oriented businesses. He said, "It recommends bringing those in to" and, "To say that family oriented business only means toddlers" is not accurate.
Commissioner Rick Knott said, "Council has approved tattoo businesses in the Town of Carolina Beach with certain conditions. That's why we are here tonight, is to see if Mr. Broadfoot has met the conditions prescribed by our zoning ordinances. I think there is some evidence that perhaps there could be some monetary impact to some businesses in the plaza but frankly... with out hard evidence, even if it goes to Council and Council says no, there's recourse to that to. And you have to have hard evidence when the judge asks you about it."
Knott said, "We don't need to consider whether this is a business we need to allow, we need to consider whether or not it meets the conditions in the conditional use" permit.
The Commission voted unanimously to recommend the Town Council approve of the conditional use permit.
Approval is based on findings that:
1. That the use will not materially endanger the public health or safety if located where proposed and developed according to the plan as submitted and approved by issuance of the C.U.P.
2. That the use meets all required conditions and specifications;    
3.  That the use will not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property, or that the use is a public necessity; and
4.  That the location and character of the use if developed according to the plan as submitted and approved will be in harmony with the area in which it is to be located and in general conformity with the town Land Use Plan and policies.
The Council will consider the permit request at their April 9th, meeting at 6:30PM at Town Hall in the Council meeting room.