AIKEN - City officials could be courting objectionable results, but they have decided to take their chances.
The Aiken City Council unanimously rejected second reading of an ordinance to designate zoning for tattoo parlors in the city Monday. Instead, council members opted to let the state Supreme Court decide the issue if and when a tattoo artist takes a case to court.
"The law as it is written gives the city the option as to whether they want to permit them or not permit them because they have to proactively pass an ordinance authorizing them," Howard Duvall Jr., executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Two years ago, the state Legislature passed a statute to allow tattoo facilities in South Carolina, and the Department of Health and Environmental Control recently approved regulations to govern tattoo facilities, Gary Smith, the city council attorney, said at the meeting.
"If you fail to zone for those types of facilities, you do so at your own peril," he said.
However, he said, that was one interpretation of the law. Under a second interpretation, Mr. Smith said, "Unless the city actually zones for tattoo facilities, DHEC will not issue a permit."
The Aiken County Council has also interpreted the law to mean that parlors would not be allowed unless the county designated zoning for them.
County Administrator Clay Killian said Tuesday that the county has had two or three inquiries about tattoo parlors since the legislation was passed. However, he said, no one has pursued the matter any further.
"We don't have an application for something we don't allow," he said.
City Manager Roger LeDuc cautioned council members that Aiken would be powerless to stop a tattoo parlor from opening - even on Laurens Street - if a tattoo artist prevails in court.
No one in the audience at Monday's meeting spoke in favor of bringing body art parlors into Aiken. Officials said Tuesday that the city had one telephone inquiry about a year ago from an unidentified caller about opening a tattoo facility.
The proposed ordinance would have allowed tattoo parlors, after special exception approval, on major thoroughfares that are zoned general business and have a traffic count of at least 25,000 vehicles a day. The ordinance also said the facilities could not locate within 1,000 feet of a church, school or playground.
In addition, the site of a tattoo parlor would have to have at least 100 feet of frontage. Whiskey Road between Pine Log Road and Aiken Mall currently is the only city road that meets the criteria. A city map identified seven possible locations for tattoo parlors along this stretch of roadway.
North Augusta resident and tattoo artist Marti French, who owns A Dermagraphic Production in Augusta, said officials have the right to decide whether they want the facilities in their communities.
"I wouldn't go anywhere I wasn't wanted," she said.
Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.