ALTON — The Alton Plan Commission on Tuesday voted 5-5 to recommend denial of a special use permit for Grand Piasa Body Art, sending the issue back to the City Council, where approval of the permit will require a supermajority of five votes.
A tie from the Alton Plan Commission is considered a negative vote.
The vote follows nearly two months of debate regarding whether Chris Hinkle, owner of Grand Piasa Body Art at 3094 Homer Adams Parkway, should be allowed to purchase the property at 556-560 E. Broadway and relocate his body art establishment downtown.
The building in question resides in a C-4 Downtown Commercial District, which is not zoned to house a tattoo shop. The permit would stay with the building, not the business, if Hinkle’s business moves or closes.
The issue had turned into a tug-of-war between members of the local community, along with some members of the commission and council, who believe a tattoo shop would inhibit future plans for a high-end art district in that area, while others in the community support what they see as a wise business decision in a struggling area.
The debate has spawned extensive social media discussion, along with a “What is Art?” forum May 6 at Jacoby Arts Center. Social media interaction and area residents and business owners contacting AdVantage News have been largely in support of the shop relocation.
The current owners of the building, Ernest and Elizabeth Cardenas, support the relocation. Jeannine Kelly, who recently purchased property in the 600 block of East Broadway, has voiced opposition to the shop moving downtown. Kelly’s company, DanMar Enterprises Inc., is renovating the buildings in an attempt to create a flourishing art district, including a breakfast bistro and rental space for artists.
Kelly says she is concerned with potential renters who may be discouraged by a nearby tattoo shop.
“I am opposed to opening up the C-4 district to tattoo parlors in general,” she said at the first commission meeting. “Once you approve this, that zoning stays with this building. We need to keep the downtown district as is for the time being so we can see how this is going to develop.”
"Zoning is an important part of the master plan and provides certainty for current and future investors," Mike Kelly said Tuesday. "Spot zoning and impulse-driven attempts to make changes is not the best approach."
B.J. Becker of Alton also spoke in opposition of the move, saying a tattoo shop should not be a pioneer business in that area.
"Once strong anchor (stores) are in place on Broadway, I believe Mr. Hinkle's business should be welcomed with open arms," Becker said. "Currently, without a number of fine art shops or strong publicly viewed quality anchor businesses like Jacoby Arts Center to compliment our fine dining establishments and current businesses, we will be positioning ourselves to use a tattoo business as an anchor business to attract businesses such as peep shows and strip tease shows."
Sharon Jackson and Monica Mason of Alton both spoke of the positive effect of tattoo related businesses in Edwardsville's business district.
During the initial meeting on April 28, the Alton Plan Commission voted 6-4 against recommending a text amendment to the zoning ordinance. On May 13, the issue went before the City Council, which required a supermajority of five to override the commission recommendation. Four aldermen voted yes, and the mayor cast the fifth deciding vote. With that, the issue returned to the Plan Commission on June 9 for the approval of a special-use permit.
The permit addressed several issues regarding the shop. It does not find serious concerns regarding traffic, parking, potential noise levels, lighting, or dramatic impact on surrounding businesses and property.
The proposed permit also listed some conditions, including limitation on signage and restrictions on fixtures such as ashtrays and a patio erected outside the building.
Hinkle proposed amendments to the special-use permit, including the ability to post an “hours of operation” sign, the option to install a bench outside of the building, and the freedom to paint the exterior of the building earth tones if the original brick is damaged during paint removal (the permit requests the exterior of the building remain the color of the brick below the existing paint).
Hinkle plans to place the new art supply store in 558 E. Broadway (currently occupied by Batog Hardwoods) and the body art establishment in 560 E. Broadway. Biker Brothers Leather would remain at 556 E. Broadway.
Just before the vote, Commissioner Bill Stoutenborough said he would vote in favor of the recommendation, in spite of being opposed to the permit.
"I want to commend Chris (Hinkle) on one of the best campaigns I have ever seen on getting something approved," Stoutenborough said. "This was one-sided."
Commissioners Mark Hackworth, Gary Doerr, Martha Kane and Todd Harpole also voted to recommend the permit. Commissioners John Rain, Joe Blair, Barry Clayton, Anne Doucleff and Terry Dooley voted to deny the recommendation.
The City Council will vote to support or override the Plan Commission recommendation on the special use permit during a meeting on June 24 at 7 p.m.