By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
LINCOLN PARK – The pros and cons of body art and food trucks were debated Nov. 6 at a city council study session to discuss the revision and creation of needed zoning ordinances.
The session, led by Economic Development and Downtown Development Authority Director Giles Tucker, said body art and food trucks were two separate issues the council needs to address.
“The most important thing, to provide some context, is body art facilities are on the books when we look at our local ordinances,” Tucker said. “What the EDC and DDA did earlier this year is recommend that the planning commission review these particular issues and come up with a proposal or opinion before we presented it to council.”
He said they intentionally did not make any specific recommendations because they wanted the two issues to be reviewed to support its expansion.
Tucker said body art is a service-based industry.
“This is a business that is going to have repeated clients that is going to bring people to our downtown,” he said.
Mayor Thomas Karnes said many residents already have tattoos.
This is the way things are today,” Karnes said. “I don’t think that it leads to strip clubs.”
Council President Thomas Murphy expressed concern that allowing body art facilities would lead to requests for other activities the city currently restricts.
“We are on a slippery slope,” Murphy said. “We are going down that road. We have a strip club already. Why don’t we move it closer to Fort Street then? We don’t have massage parlors here. Why not bring them in? It’s a service. And now this. Where does it end? Where do we lose our community and fail to be Lincoln Park?”
Murphy said he feared if one ordinance classified as an adult business were changed, there would be requests for other changes.
Tucker countered by saying that body art facilities were markedly different from adult bookstores, adult movie theaters and strip clubs.
“There is a different perception today in comparison to those types of uses than tattoo parlors, and done right and well regulated, you are seeing success,” Tucker said. “They are in communities like Royal Oak, Ferndale, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor. When you walk down the street you are not going to see legs and neon lights blinking at you. You see a nice quality service-type business in your downtown.”
Tucker said Allen Park allowed a body art business in its central business district, and Wyandotte has a business on Fort Street but not in its downtown.
Councilman Larry Kelsey said if the council changes the zoning on body art facilities, he wants it to be done for the right reasons.
“If I have one entrepreneur that wants to have a tattoo parlor, that doesn’t impress me,” Kelsey said. “If I’ve got five or six of them that want to come into the city and saying this is a place I want to put my business, that kind of gets me motivated to look at different things, because now I’ve got people that want to come in not because the rent is cheap but they actually want to come in and generate some stuff and put some money and effort in.”
Tucker said the city has been approached by seven body art businesses in the last 18 months.
He suggested referring to tattoo parlors as body art facilities and removing them from the adult regulated use category and reclassifing them so they would be permitted in the general business district.
Currently, city zoning does not allow adult businesses near churches and schools and highly regulates its placement. Tucker suggested that the classification was outdated and that tattoos have become more mainstream in recent years.
Other businesses falling under the adult classification include adult bookstores and movie theaters, cabarets, massage parlors and nude modeling studios.
Body art facilities would be defined as including piercing and branding in addition to tattoos.
Tucker said the Planning Commission felt allowing body art facilities would add to the vibrancy and service orientation of the downtown business district.
He suggested that body art facilities be separated by at least 1,000 feet through zoning regulation.
Tucker said that unlike body art facilities, modern day food trucks are not currently addressed by any ordinances. At present the city is using an ordinance from 30 years ago that disallows peddling from fixed locations.
He said in 1987 food trucks were usually ice cream trucks and hot dog carts.
“Today you have a pretty significant difference with what has occurred in the past,” Tucker said. “In terms of health and safety, these aren’t the hot dog stands of old.
They have higher tech kitchens, they have sanitation equipment on board, they go through state and county health, and we are seeing them deployed in many different communities.”
Tucker said food trucks currently may only be used as part of a special event permit.
He said the way that food trucks are regulated must fit your community needs.
“I have anticipated some of the concerns that you may have,” Tucker said. “As somebody that works in economic development, I have some concerns as well.
“We don’t want to do anything that hurts our brick and mortar businesses. Food truck rallies are a part of a lot of communities’ downtown. They are a more nimble business, and if you do it right – and there are ways in which you can contain it – you can use permitting and licensing to mitigate external costs and you can also provide the community with a lot more options in terms of food choices.”
Tucker said food trucks can get to communities that are under-served with a lack of options.
“I think it is a good idea for the city to consider changing its mindset about food trucks while finding a way to help mitigate the cost or the potential impact that it may have on brick and mortar businesses.”
Tucker said a bar owner in Ferndale moves food trucks in and out of his private property to change the menu for his customers, a relatively new business model. He said a businessman wanted to bring a similar business to Lincoln Park, but the current zoning could not accommodate him.
Murphy expressed concern for the precedent the council would be setting.
“My concern for the city of Lincoln Park would again be the slippery slope,” Murphy said. “We have other merchants that like to come in periodically like at Easter and bring in flowers.
“We have business people with brick and mortar businesses in the city of Lincoln Park that pay a lot of taxes to be here. These people come in and they drastically undercut them many times. My concern would be how do we treat these food trucks in a way that they don’t have an advantage over the brick and mortar who have been here for years and have paid taxes.”
Dardzinski said he likes that food trucks will draw customers with discretionary money to spend.
“At the end of the day what you want is a business district where you have so many layers of foot traffic that 90 percent of the foot traffic is coming into the city, and that is discretionary money,” Dardzinski said.
EDC member George Cretu said it is time the city takes a second look at food trucks.
“I do think this is something that if we don’t do it, somebody else is going to do it for sure,” Cretu said. “It is just too big of a business. We are working for opportunities as part of the EDC and of course the DDA that we can bring businesses into the city.
“We need to look at everything that we possibly can and look under those stones when we are doing our job properly. I think we need to be as open as we possibly can about something that is not really new.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)