ALTON – With the mayor casting the defining supermajority vote at Wednesday’s Alton City Council meeting, a local business owner’s two-month battle to relocate his business looks to be over.
The vote is a hard-fought victory for Chris Hinkle, owner of Grand Piasa Body Art, currently located at 3094 Homer Adams Parkway. Hinkle initially requested permission from the Plan Commission to relocate his shop to the downtown area, with plans to open an art supply store, as well.
"It has been an arduous journey," Hinkle said immediately after the vote. "I am very happy and I am overwhelmed with the support I have received. You never know until something like this how many people are in your corner."
The building in question, 556-560 East Broadway, is in a C-4 Downtown Commercial District, which is not zoned for a tattoo shop. If a permit is granted, it would stay with the building, not the business, if Hinkle’s shop moves or closes.
Concerns from members of the commission regarding the repercussions of opening the district up to tattoo shops as well as the type of clientele it would attract resulted in the commission voting 6-4 to recommend denial of the text amendment for the ordinance on April 28.
“(Tattooing) has a place where it could be and should be,” Plan Commission member Bill Stoutenborough said. “I am opposed to having it in a high-visibility area. It does have an effect on a town.”
Some members of the public, including the owners of nearby property who were planning to renovate the area to attract a high-end art district, also voiced opposition to the shop’s relocation. Many downtown business owners, local residents, members of various Alton organizations, the current owners of the building in question and the executive director of Alton Main Street all openly supported the move, saying it would increase traffic to the downtown district and would not compromise the purpose of C-4 zoning.
The issue was then sent to the Alton City Council on May 13, which with the mayor’s vote achieved the five “supermajority” votes necessary to overturn the commission’s recommendation, with an amendment restricting the district to one tattoo shop. Hinkle then returned to the Plan Commission on June 9 to request a special-use permit. His request was denied by a vote of 5-5 (considered a negative vote).
At Wednesday's City Council meeting, Aldermen David Boulds and Gary Fleming said the debate is only about the zoning. Boulds voted for a layover of the issue, but Alderman James Ryan said they have strung Hinkle along enough and needed to let the issue pass. The council voted 5-2 against Boulds' request for a layover.
Alderman Charles Brake, along with Ryan, was the most outspoken in favor of approving the special use permit.
"He has not come to the city for a dime that I know of," Brake said. "The young man is looking ahead...To lay this thing over is nothing more than a cheap politics trick to keep dragging this young man through the mud. I say we ought to vote on it tonight and have it over with."
Supporters have questioned the motivations and personal prejudices of some of the commission and council members, claiming Plan Commission members were rolling their eyes and doodling on their pads while people addressed the commission in favor of the move on June 9.
“Clearly you have made your mind up, and I think that’s a shame,” Old Bakery Beer Company owner James Rogalsky said at the June 9 meeting. “I encourage any of you who have been rolling your eyes and are going to make a judgment call based on something that has proven to be a nice business model here in town and also nationally to resign your post immediately.”
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 East Broadway.
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.
As with the May 13 meeting, an extremely large crowd turned out for Wedneday's vote, standing along the walls and spilling out into the hallway outside of council chambers. At Wednesday's City Council meeting, 11 people spoke for and against the tattoo shop's relocation. Hinkle thanked the council for its time and expressed gratitude to Sara McGibany, the executive director of Alton Main Street, for her help and support.
If another tattoo shop decides to open in the C-4 district, it will have to go through the same process Hinkle adhered to in order to obtain his permit.
More on this meeting coming soon from AdVantage News.