The location is leased. The artists are ready to pierce and thread. But the "Sorry, we are closed" sign clearly indicates things are far from smooth for a planned tattoo parlor in Mesa.
Owner Ryan Coleman wants to open Angel Tattoo on the southeast corner of Dobson and Baseline roads, but the local homeowners association and the district's councilman have expressed their opposition.
"It just doesn't fit the neighborhood," said Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh.
Those opposed also say the Dobson Ranch site already has a concentration of payday loans and check-cashing businesses, and there are other tattoo parlors in the area for those interested.
Coleman first floated his plans last summer. Since then, petitions in favor and against were submitted, a neighborhood meeting held, and in February, the planning and zoning board recommended denial of the application.
Regardless, Coleman is moving ahead to a City Council public hearing Monday in the belief that he deserves to open the parlor because it meets all the city zoning requirements. He's been posting urgent pleas online for support.
The case has also recently spurred a debate within the planning and zoning board about whether the city needs to revisit policies governing such businesses.
A key stipulation, set in 1997, is that tattoo parlors have to be outside a 1,200-foot buffer from any other such parlor or a school. Additionally, certain establishments including tattoo parlors, pawn shops and plasma centers, require a council-use permit. Such uses tend to trigger neighborhood concerns, so it's left to the council's discretion to decide whether or not such a business would hurt the neighborhood.
Dobson Ranch Homeowners Association executive director Michele-Ray Brethower also sent a letter to the city in August, requesting that the council not approve the application.
Coleman, who's run a tattoo parlor in Nice, France, for 13 years, said he feels he's being unfairly targeted for what he described as a "negative perception of only biker gang-types and such getting tattoos."
He says he wants to set shop here because it's his hometown, and precisely because it's in a nice neighborhood, as that's the type of clientele he wants to attract. In his France location, he says his regular clientele ranges from professional musicians to police and military officers.
The frustrating part, says Coleman, is that it's hard to accept that an application meets every technical requirement, but can still get rejected "based on council's feeling on a tattoo parlor."
That's the point of the council use permit, says Kavanaugh, to make that judgment call.
Mesa has nine tattoo parlors. The most recent council permit was issued in 2006. That tattoo parlor has since closed.
Coleman has agreed to a "good neighbor" policy, including limiting hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and restricting clientele to those 18 and older.
"We've told them we won't do racist or gang-related tattoos, we won't let people loiter, but they still don't wanna budge just because of a negative perception about tattoos," Coleman said of his shop that would also provide body piercings.
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Mesa police have not done any studies related to effects of tattoo parlors on a neighborhood.
The closest tattoo parlor, Artistic, is on the northeast corner of Alma School and Guadalupe roads. The nearest school is Rhodes Junior High, at Longmore and Baseline Road, which according to Kavanaugh, would have fallen in the 1,200-foot buffer zone, had Angel Tattoo faced Baseline Road, instead of the Dobson side.
Coleman's rented the 1,000-square-foot shop for about 11 months in a neat, well-maintained strip mall. Other businesses in the nondescript building include a massage parlor, a payday loan center, a nail salon, an acupuncture center and a Cajun restaurant. The response from the neighboring businesses, a half-mile from the Dobson Ranch police substation, is mixed.
"If it brings more people to the complex, it's better for all of us," said Hank Phan, manager of Cajun Seafood Corner.
Jeremy Byers, a sales representative at Pella Windows & Doors, said he doesn't see why it's such a big deal.
"If it were a smoke shop selling bongs, then it might be a problem, but this is just tattoos," said Byers.
Not everyone agreed.
"I don't want junk in the neighborhood," said one business owner, who didn't wish to be identified.
Jeff Welker, representing Coleman in the application process, said it boils down to "a difference in opinion" on whether or not it's detrimental to the area. He says it's hard to find a location meeting all the city specifications, and then not running into neighborhood concerns anyway.
"The question I ask is: 'If not here, where?'" Welker asks.
Planning board members Beth Coons and Scott Perkinson, the only two to vote in favor, both raised the point that Mesa city ordinance needs revisiting, to prevent such situations. Right now, the council use permit places restrictions on each type of use within that 1,200-foot zone, but it doesn't have any safeguards against multiple uses concentrating in that same site.
City senior planner Tom Ellsworth said the applicant had been told in the beginning about the buffer requirement and the council use permit.
In that February meeting, a visibly irked Perkinson said it's hard to understand why businesses are made to go through a long process, only to have the planning board or the council have the discretion to say "no."
"That doesn't make sense," Perkinson said.
Planning director John Wesley told the board the city staff has concerns of a potential detrimental impact, but they weren't able to come up with "enough specific things" in their analysis to be able to recommend denial.
Kavanaugh told the Tribune he's been upfront with the applicant from the beginning and the neighbors had expressed concern from the beginning.
"I'm surprised they're moving ahead with this," he said.