Councilman trying to reverse tattoo vote County parlors outside industrial areas targeted

May 01, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Removing tattoos could prove easier than removing tattoo parlors in Baltimore County, where a county councilman is struggling to round up enough support to reverse a mid-March vote legalizing several shops that had been operating outside county zoning laws.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat whose district has at least two parlors, is pushing the issue, backed by Lorraine Gordon, a Belair Road activist who wants to close Mr. B's Tattoos in the 7200 block of Belair Road, near her home.

At issue is a last-minute amendment to a bill passed March 16 restricting adult entertainment businesses to industrial zones.

The amendment, offered by Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, grandfathered in tattoo parlors outside those industrial areas that are more than a year old and with no other legal problems. It passed 6-1, with Gardina voting against it.

Even though the county has only a half-dozen tattoo parlors -- three of them operating outside zoning laws before the March vote -- Gardina and Gordon say the vote set a bad precedent. They said it could encourage owners of other inappropriate businesses to ignore zoning and use the appeals system to avoid being closed.

Mr. B's had been declared in violation of zoning laws by the county zoning commissioner, the board of appeals and by a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge. Owner Bruce Benkert appealed each ruling until the council vote made his operation legal.

Gardina said he will introduce a bill retracting the amendment only if he can find a fourth vote -- a majority -- on the seven-member council. Gordon argued that Mr. B's "should have been shut down to begin with. Why do those who are victims of inappropriate and illegal practices have to prove their case?"

Benkert said that Gordon is on a crusade to close him and notes that he dropped his appeal to the Court of Special Appeals after the council's vote.

He said that county zoning laws made no provision for tattoo parlors before March. "I just can't see how [the council] can go back and change a law," Benkert said.

Bartenfelder said he explained the effect of his amendment before the vote, adding that several constituents have called him in support of Benkert's shop while only Gordon has spoken against it.

"I'm not for a proliferation of tattoo parlors," he said. "I was trying to draw a middle ground."

But several councilmen said that when they voted, they had a different understanding of the amendment's effect.

Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, said he thought all three tattoo parlors operating in violation of the zoning law were in Bartenfelder's district. He said he was willing to back Bartenfelder on that basis but might want to take a second look.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican, also said he would vote to reconsider. He has spoken with Gordon and agrees with her. "We've legalized what was illegal. That, I never like to do -- it slipped past me," said McIntire.

Other members were noncommittal, casting doubt on whether the provision would be overturned.

Dundalk Democrat Louis L. DePazzo, whose district has Gypsy's Tattoos in the 7800 block of Wise Ave., said he's "unsure" about revisiting the issue. Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, also said he is undecided because his district is not affected -- Little Vinnie's Tattoos, in the 8000 block of Liberty Road, was operating legally.

Gardina's district has two parlors, Thinking Ink in the 5500 block of Ebenezer Road, White Marsh, and Sins of the Skin, in the 11400 block of Eastern Ave., Chase. Like Little Vinnie's and Gypsy's, Sins of the Skin is operating legally under a former loophole in the zoning law that allowed several parlors to qualify as "residential art salons" before the council eliminated that loophole last year.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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