PRINCESS ANNE — If you want to operate a tattoo business in the Town of Princess Anne you might want to graduate from medical school first.
If that’s not practical, you can appeal to the Town Commissioners to change the law — which is the path Robert West and his supporters are taking.
Mr. West is ready to open Studio Ink at the Princess Anne Village but the town code states "All tattooing shall be done by or under the direct supervision of a physician or osteopath." It was adopted in 2006 reportedly to block a tattoo parlor from opening downtown across from the courthouse.
Two years ago, Commissioner Lionel Frederick asked that the tattoo ordinance be reconsidered so the town would be more business friendly, but during a November 2019 work session when he was absent the commissioners by consensus did not make any changes.
Since then two of the commissioners were voted out, and Mr. Frederick was elevated to president, and changes to the ordinance will be up for discussion at the Sept. 20 work session.
"It doesn’t make sense," Mr. West said. He understands that there continues to be a certain stigma attached to tattoo parlors but where he is located the police are in and out all the time getting food from Caesar’s Pizza a few doors away to the north. And then there is the M Street Grille two doors away to the south, which while closed, was a bar that sold alcoholic beverages.
He said when small business is stifled it encourages people to work underground at home where there is no oversight or sanitary protections in place. He also remarked that when the regulation was passed in 2006 the Princess Anne Village property "was just grass" expressing how the town itself has changed over the past 15 years.
Mr. West said he prepared on his own a revised version of the ordinance, "not to be presumptuous but to speed things up." He wants to be in operation by November if not sooner and especially before UMES students head home for the semester.
He also has to pay rent on the unit, "and I just can’t keep sitting here waiting."
The ordinance states that tattoo shops "may be permitted by the Board of [Zoning] Appeals as a special exception in the C-2 District provided the Board of Appeals finds the proposed use and [its] operation are consistent with the requirements of Chapter 140 of the Princess Anne Code."
Even if the medical doctor requirement is lifted, as written today a public hearing by the BZA would be required because Princess Anne Village is located in the General Commercial C-2 zone.
According to the code licenses have a term of three years and when one is granted the commissioners and their agents have an "unrestricted and irrevocable right to enter upon and into the premises permitted to determine compliance herewith."
The code also sets specific health and sanitary requirements and the maintenance of permanent records for each patron for at least two years. If an infection results from the practice of tattooing it "shall promptly be reported to the Health Department by the operator" and the infected person "shall be referred immediately to a physician."
"The requirement of a medical physician or osteopath on site and directly supervising artists made more sense when there were far less safety regulations in place," said Polly Anne Moore, Mr. West’s aunt in her remarks to the Town Commissioners during their Sept. 7 meeting.
"In this day and age this is a financially impractical requirement."
Mr. West’s uncle, John Pusey, said his nephew runs a very clean business, adding, "I hope you give the guy a break."
Commissioners said they would review the ordinance, with Mr. Frederick saying, "We’re living in a different time period" than when it was adopted. However, he said until it is changed the town has to follow the law as written.