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Ink parlors OK'd in North Bend, just not downtown

In a polarizing debate over where—or if—to allow tattoo parlors in North Bend, the city council has reached a compromise. The businesses will be allowed near the Interstate-90 exits, but will be banned from operating as home-based businesses anywhere in the city.

The changes, approved at a June 18 council meeting, take effect next week, but for the one tattoo parlor already in the city, nothing will change.

David Herman, owner of Ambrosia Tattoo shop on Ballarat Avenue, spoke to the council last March about his plans to live and work in his shop on Ballarat Avenue, in the city’s Downtown Commercial (DC) zone. At the March 5 meeting, the city council passed an emergency ordinance to specifically prohibit tattoo, body piercing, and medical marijuana businesses from operating as home-based businesses.

That action drew dozens of critical comments in several online forums, although few people addressed it at the public hearings that followed, on April 16 before the city council and June 13 before the city’s planning commission.

Following the seven-member planning commission’s hearing, the group recommended revisions to the code to allow tattoo parlors in the Interchange Commercial (IC) and Interchange Mixed-Use (IMU) zones near the I-90 exits, as directed by the council, and in the Downtown Commercial and Neighborhood Business zones along East North Bend Way (see the North Bend zoning map at http://northbendwa.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/891). The commission also recommended the businesses not be allowed in the Employment Park-2 zone, as current code allows, nor anywhere in the city as a home-based business.

They further rejected a majority of the council’s findings of fact in support of their original action. Planning commission chairperson Rob McFarland commented during the June 18 public hearing that tattoo parlors are “… also highly regulated by the state... and in my research and the research of others, we really didn’t find the sort of (health issues) that scared us.”

Planning commissioners Piper Muoio and Gary Fancher also spoke at the hearing, urging the council to adopt their recommendations. Like McFarland, they each specified they were speaking for themselves rather than the commission.

Muoio said the group “worked hard at making the wording very crisp,” in its proposal and added, “Our vote was pretty clearly the majority. It was 5-0.”

Fancher cited one of the commission’s findings of fact from the Pew Research Center, that the median age of North Bend residents was 38, and that a third of the population had tattoos, himself included. Herman is an established practitioner, who claims he operated his shop in Redmond for 14 years and has been an artist for more than 50 years. Regarding his business, Fancher said, “I see it as a benefit to the community.”

McFarland also commented on the unanimous vote, and stressed to the council that the commission’s focus was on business, as did business owner Sherwood Korssjoen.

“The issue is the opportunity for people to do business in the community,” Korssjoen said.

Although the council rejected the commission’s recommendations in favor of an amendment to allow the businesses only in the Exit 31 IC zone and only north of I-90 at the Exit 34 IMU zone, several councilmen expressed interest in considering a change to allow tattoo parlors in the DC zone in the future.

Councilman Jonathan Rosen, who proposed the amendment that the council ultimately approved, said he was not opposed to tattoo parlors on principle, but had heard strong concerns from residents neighboring Herman’s shop, which he said he had to consider, too. For that reason, he had proposed allowing the businesses in the IC zone by Exit 31, and only north of the freeway in the IMU zone at Exit 34, since the zone included many homes south of the freeway.

Councilman David Cook later commented that there seemed to be a “disconnect” between the goals of the planning commission, city council and city administration, and said he wanted to address that in the near future.

After the vote, McFarland said he was disappointed, not entirely because the council rejected his commission’s proposal, but because “We inadvertently were not as tight in our language as we should have been… we left council with the impression that tattoo parlors should be allowed in residential areas. That was never our intention.”

 

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