When is a tattoo like a Rembrandt painting?
When Baltimore County zoning commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt says so.
In a 1993 decision, Schmidt ruled that tattoo parlors are covered by a zoning provision that permits a residential art salon as an accessory to a residence in a business zone.
Such a salon is defined as "a portion of a dwelling unit used for the exhibition and sale of original works of art." It is meant to define an in-house art gallery.
This ruling -- and a conclusion by the zoning commissioner that there is no difference between "the work of the great masters" and a tattoo artist "other than a matter of taste and the surface (canvas or skin)" -- opened a legal loophole for tattoo parlors to locate in some residential buildings.
Now the County Council is moving to close the loophole.
A council bill introduced this week would exclude tattoo parlors, body-piercing establishments or any other skin-piercing business from the definition of "residential art salon" in county zoning law.
The loophole has already allowed two Eastern Boulevard tattoo parlors to gain zoning approval in the county, where laws make no specific provision for them.
Schmidt's ruling approved Gypsy's Tattoos, which shares a building with an apartment in the 200 block of Eastern Ave., Essex. Westside Tattoos' building, on Liberty Road near Milford Mill, also has apartments in it.
Mr. B's Tattoos, in the 7500 block of Belair Road, plans to use the same loophole in arguing a Circuit Court zoning appeal July 3. And Westside Tattoos, which opened in December, is hoping to press the same argument at a Towson District Court hearing scheduled for Aug. 20.
But two council members say they have seen enough.
Though tattoos are increasingly popular among young people, many homeowners see the shops as signs of neighborhood decay, especially in older areas.
"This '93 opinion focused on a technicality," says Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. "I respectfully disagree."
Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat whose district contains several other parlors, is the other sponsor.
Last year, he got a law approved that prevents tattooing of minors under 18 without parental permission and says he may ask for a planning board study of the whole tattoo-parlor situation.
Meanwhile, lawyer Michael P. Tanczyn, who won a court case in April for the Sins of Skin parlor in Chase and who represents Westside Tattoos, says the proposed law shouldn't affect his clients. He said the law might be unconstitutional because it could have the effect of prohibiting all new tattoo parlors from the county.
"On what basis do you ban it?" Tanczyn asked.
Westside is owned by Vincent Myers, who tried to open a shop in Towson two years ago but lost that zoning fight.
The council should vote on the bill next month.
Pub Date: 6/04/97