Garden Grove Rejects Tattoo Art Studio on Main Street

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At a late-night meeting that stretched past 11 pm, the Garden Grove City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to deny a combination art gallery and tattoo studio permission to open on the city’s historic Main Street.

A tattooed pastor, church-going clients and friends of the applicant, Kurtis Gibson of Black Umbrella Tattoo showed up to support his application for a zoning change that would have allowed his business to open.

But Gibson faced opposition from some business owners on Main Street, who said tattoo art doesn’t fit with the family-oriented culture of the one block long business district.

The studio would have included an art gallery in the storefront and a concealed tattoo studio toward the back of the space. Gibson also proposed hosting family painting events, workshops and organizing art walks. Although the council turned down his application Tuesday, Gibson can reapply in the future.

“A lot of churches are rooted in the past, nostalgic for a past that never existed,” said Bob Ramsey, associate pastor at Living Spring Christian Fellowship, who told the city council he has a tattoo that was done by Gibson.

“The planning commission made a similar value judgment when they approved Black Umbrella and decided that it was appropriate for Main Street — to see the community as it actually is, rather than other visions for it along the way,” he said.

“A tattoo shop is not something new from the standpoint of keeping some people out or keeping some people in — they are us. The tattooed community is already here,” said John Rittenhouse, senior pastor at Living Spring, an evangelical protestant church in the Free Methodist denomination.

But some opponents argued changing the zoning for the tattoo studio would open up Main Street to the possibility of adult-themed businesses, such as adult bookstores. Others felt the tattoo studio might attract crime to the neighborhood.

“Main Street is representative of the city. In changing zoning you’re opening the doors to adult-themed businesses. I don’t have nothing against tattoos – I just don’t think they should do it on the block of Main Street,” said resident Verna Chumley.

Scott Weimer, treasurer for the Downtown Business Association that has opposed the project, said the current zoning for Main Street is meant to protect the prosperity and culture of the historic district.

“The right tenant mix is one of the most crucial factors of any shopping district. And it’s the zoning process that’s the policing mechanism for that process,” Weimer said.

Police Chief Kevin Raney said tattoo parlors and studios have not attracted crime in the city.

“It’s not a business that’s on the police department’s radar. It hasn’t caused us problems,” Raney said. “I heard councilman [Chris] Phan say we have nine tattoo parlors, and it’s the first I’ve heard that number.”

Several of the speakers in support of the project pointed to empty storefronts on Main Street and argued the studio would attract a new, younger demographic to the area.

John Quiggle, who works at a Main Street restaurant, disputed notions that the business doesn’t fit in with the historic and family-oriented character.

“Is what really defines the character of Main Street the type of business? There’s been a Zumba studio, a tax office, a smoke shop — I don’t exactly think of good-old-times, back-in-the-day businesses,” Quiggle said. “The character is defined by the people. The opposition is just an arbitrary exclusion given the businesses that used to and continue to operate.”

In May, the Main Street Commission voted 3-1 against the rezoning, while the Planning Commission voted in June to recommend its approval.

Gibson, who collected 22 signatures from land and business owners in support of his proposal, said the Main Street commission and Downtown Business Association don’t speak for the entire street.

“This is being well received by people who want to participate in [Main] street,” Gibson said. “Main Street is excited about this change, and they want to be heard. They don’t want to be shushed up anymore.”

But councilmembers Dina Nguyen, Kris Beard and Mayor Bruce Broadwater ultimately voted against the proposal, citing a need to maintain consistency in zoning standards.

Nguyen said she doesn’t have an issue with body art and tattoos, but changing the zoning would be a short-term decision catering to a specific business that may not exist in the future.

“I give a lot of deference to Main Street commission — they’ve been there, they’ve fought to make it nicer,” Nguyen said. “I think spot zoning is catering to one type of business that may not continue in the future.”

Broadwater said that, although future applicants would need to return to the council to have their business approved, there’s no guarantee the city could prevent other businesses from challenging the zoning change in court.

“I believe spot zoning is bad news,” Broadwater said. “If some guy buys into Main Street and wants to open an adult bookstore, they wouldn’t come to [the council], they’d go to a judge and say, ‘this guy got it, what about us?’”

Councilmen Steve Jones and Phan voted in favor of the project.

“I fail to see how this particular use creates any major negative impact to the character of the street, or criminal activity,” Jones said.

Phan said, in spite of worries about the effect of the tattoo studio on the character of the street, he felt Gibson would add to the revival of Main Street.

“[Gibson] is a family man, a church-goer, a great artist – that’s very convincing to me,” Phan said. “My vote is to be inclusive and make sure we involve everybody in the city and not just certain portions.”

Please contact Thy Vo directly at thyanhvo@gmail.com

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