As the Peekskill Common Council considers scrapping a 1990 ban in favor of allowing tattoo studios in certain areas of the city, more than two dozen speakers urged the council Monday night to “go all the way” and let studios open in the downtown artists district.
The public hearing, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, focused on repealing the existing ban and replacing it with new zoning that would allow tattoo studios as a “special permit use” in shopping center and industrial districts but not downtown.
With one exception the speakers endorsed the change and many urged the council to let tattoo artist Patrick Conlon open his proposed studio in the artists district. Conlon’s proposal has prompted spirited discussion for two years and led to the proposed rezoning. Please click here for additional background.
Mayor Mary Foster said after the hearing that the council would discuss the new comments during its next meeting, May 7.
Several speakers said tattoo artists logically belonged in the downtown artists district and would be a welcome addition and economic draw to a city they praised for its diversity. They said tattoos have become much more mainstream than the “outdated stereotype” of motorcycle gang members and inebriated sailors.
Jason Angell, executive director of the Business Improvement District, which supports repeal of the ban, summarized several comments when he commended the council for considering lifting the ban for certain zones and urged the city to “lift it all the way.” He said studios were “mainstream good business” whose fastest-growing patronage came from “affluent suburban women” – the sort of people you want downtown. He noted that quality tattoos are not cheap; a “good” one, requiring multiple visits to the artist, can cost several hundred dollars.
Downtown businessmen Scott Sailor (Bruised Apple) and Tim Trewhella (Treat Station) cited the need for more “boutique businesses,” such as Conlon’s proposed studio, to help downtown succeed. Sailor added that tattoo artists had aided the renaissance of downtown Beacon, NY, and suggested that restrictions could be imposed if problems followed a total lifting of the ban.
“For the arts to thrive, the city must thrive,” said Joe Carr, a South Street artist who said Peekskill’s support of the arts attracted him to the city from Manhattan’s East Village. He cited the irony of barring a tattoo studio from the artists district, especially when four of the nine storefronts he can see from his loft are vacant.
Fred Gillen Jr., a touring musician who lives on Pomeroy Street, said a studio would be an additional draw to a “real downtown” that includes such attractions—especially to younger people— as the Peekskill Coffee House (co-owned by Conlon and Sunny Cover) and the Bean Runner Café. “Why discourage a legitimate business downtown because of an old zoning law?” he asked.
Taxi owner and blogger Anthony Bazzo, noting that businesspeople invest their time and money in what they do, said the proposed restrictions “would put Patrick where he doesn’t make money or where he can’t afford to. It’s art. He belongs downtown.” Bazzo described tattooing as a legal business, regulated by health and other authorities, as are the tobacco and alcohol industries, and “His [Conlon’s] profession is a lot less damaging than tobacco and alcohol.”
“Patrick has artistic passion,” said Anthony Thomas of Smith Street, who described himself as “a struggling artist.” “How can you not let an artist earn a living from his passion?” Otherwise, he said, how could the city allow the name “artists district”?
Friends of Conlon described him as “a truly high-level artist,” “a standup, do-it-right person,” “a real pro” who “uses skin for canvas,” “attentive,” “safe” and “courteous.”
Conlon, who spoke early in the hearing, thanked the council for working with him through the lengthy effort to allow tattoo studios back in the city but urged officials not to restrict him because of what some other artist might do.
Although he would “prefer not,” Tim Ball of Fremont Street urged the council to allow studios on the ground floor downtown. “They deserve as much rights as anybody,” he said, asking only that any window displays visible from the street be moderate, with the actual tattooing done farther inside the studios.
John Donohue of Union Avenue said the “great testimonials” voiced by speakers to Conlon and his work missed several points. “Your obligation goes beyond putting in a business,” he told the council. “I see tattoos, not art. His Web site is pornography. I don’t want this kind of stuff in my community.” He said any new law must include safeguards, with penalties for violations.
Anthony Ruggiero, director of planning, said he had received more than two dozen e-mails on the subject before the hearing.