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Bedeviled by tattoo issue, residents vote 'no'

Date: 10/9/2012

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — There will be no tramp stamps, pierced tongues or devil horn implants available in East Longmeadow and nary an arm adorned with "I 'heart' mom" shall be seen.

At its Oct. 1 Special Town Meeting, East Longmeadow residents voted down a proposed bylaw amendment that would allow for the by-right usage of commercial property for a body art establishment.

The proposed bylaw would have restricted potential businesses specializing in tattooing, piercing and other body modification to areas outside of a 500-foot radius of a public or charter school or a church.

Needing a two-thirds vote to pass, as is required for all bylaw amendments, the motion failed with 67 residents voting yes and 53 casting negative votes after Moderator James Sheils called for a standing vote.

For some, such as School Committee member Elizabeth Marsian-Boucher, the issue of body art and the buffer were a major cause of concern. Prior to the vote, Marsian-Boucher specifically questioned Planning Board Chair George Kingston on why 500 feet was decided upon.

"I would rather have seen it at 750 or 1,000 square feet because, quite frankly, I don't want to see devil horns coming out of kids or scarring. That's beyond tattooing. I don't want to see my kids putting devil horns on themselves either," she said. "I really wish there was a little more thought toward letting them come in front of the town meeting and drag them through the mud like you've done with people such as daycare providers. Let them work a little harder instead of you guys facilitating on their behalf."

Kingston explained that the Attorney General's office has stated that towns cannot be overly restrictive in where they allow body art establishments. At 500 feet, he said, approximately 43 percent of the business district would have been available. At 1,000 feet, only 31 percent would be available, which could be considered overly restrictive.

When asked what would happen if the town meeting voted against the bylaw, Kingston said that legal action could be taken against the town because the practice of body art is protected under the First Amendment.

"If this is not passed, it would be up to the Planning Board to make a determination, should someone ask for a waiver to do this in town, whether or not it would be an allowed use under the current bylaw," he said. "If we determine it is not an allowed use, which is likely, we would open ourselves up to a suit. If that suit was successful, these establishments could be established anywhere retail is allowed within town. We would not have the same amount of control we would have under this bylaw revision."

Kingston was also asked whether or not the town was acting prematurely and should wait until legal action is taken to address a bylaw change.

"That argument has been made, but we felt by a majority of the Planning Board that being proactive was the right thing to do," he said. "We only have town meetings twice a year. Lawsuits can come up a lot more quickly than every six months. We're bringing it to town meeting to let the town decide what you people want to do about this. If you choose to wait for us to be hauled into court to take action on this, then that's your choice."

Resident Peter Cokotis criticized the Planning Board, stating that it had the opportunity to step up and avoid such a situation.

"We shouldn't wake up [wondering] if we're going to be in a lawsuit each day, so to me, it sounds like the Planning Board had the onus here to be a firewall here and say, 'we're not going to do this,'" he said.

Melvin Lockett, owner of two Fabulous Ink tattoo parlors who first came to the Planning Board on May 22 about opening a third location in East Longmeadow, was in attendance, but did not speak. Cokotis also turned his attention directly to Lockett.

"I hope this individual realizes that it's not going to happen in this town if we don't pass it. It doesn't mean that it triggers a lawsuit," he said.