By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Commissioners revisit classification of tattoo shops in Forsyth County
tattoo stock
Photo by Maria Oswalt, Unsplash.

While tattoo shops and other body art businesses are categorized alongside adult theaters, adult hotels and other “no-nasties,” the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners have been talking about removing tattoo shops and body art businesses from the “adult entertainment” list.

At a work session on Tuesday, April 26, County Attorney Ken Jarrard gave commissioners an updated presentation about removing the “adult entertainment” classification for tattoo and body art businesses, allowing tattoo shops the possibility to begin moving into the county.

Currently, tattoo shops are only allowed in Forsyth County in light industrial zonings with an adult entertainment business license, and are not allowed in some areas including the Coal Mountain Overlay.

At a previous work session in November, Jarrard was tasked with finding some “tattoo [conditional-use permit] language” from neighboring counties and cities and to “start crafting some potential [conditional-use permit] parameters.”

On Tuesday, he presented the “fairly exacting permitting scheme” that Dawson County has adopted for tattoo shops since 2004. The code has application requirements and post-issuance permitting requirements with a “huge emphasis” on sanitation and cleanliness.

Jarrard said that if the commissioners wanted to consider changes, three things might have to be done.

The first is that the county would need to modify the adult entertainment code to remove tattooing from the definition of an adult entertainment establishment.

The county would also need to draft a new code to permit tattoos in other potential zoning categories and modify the county’s unified development code to “blend that into a CUP.”

All three items would come back before the board for public hearings so residents can voice opinions, ask questions, and hear comments from the board.

During discussion at the work session, District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson, who “personally brought this [item] forward,” said that she did not agree tattoo shops should still be considered an adult entertainment business.

“Having it categorized under adult entertainment to me was a curious thing, and I think it is something that is product of a lot of stereotypes that come from a long time ago,” Semanson said. “Tattooing is generally more accepted in public today. It is an honest way to make a living.”

Semanson said that in today’s society, people get tattoos for many different things like surviving a disease, celebrating a milestone or to honor a family member.

“We have tattooed people that work in [the county] building, and it’s not anything scandalous,” Semanson said. “We have plenty of folks within our first responder network … who have tattoos. I think it’s time we come out of the dark ages and bring this out of the adult entertainment [definition].”

Regarding Dawson County’s code presented by Jarrard, Semanson said she liked the “stringency” of it and stipulated that with a CUP, commissioners could place restrictions on tattoo shops and body art businesses that fit the county’s standards.

District 4’s Cindy Jones Mills explained her concern about the “placement of [tattoo shops] and the number [of shops] that might come in all at once.”

“I don’t want to see my district flooded with [tattoo shops],” Mills said. “I don’t want to see it everywhere.”

Semanson said that with a CUP, the county can create characteristics and requirements to have setbacks to similar institutions, like they do with establishments that sell liquor. She said she didn’t personally believe that the applications for tattoo shops would go from “zero to 100 overnight.”

District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent asked why tattoo shops have not opened in Forsyth County when they are allowed in light industrial zonings.

“If this is such a need, why haven’t they?” Levent said. “It’s not like they have to be up front [saying] ‘tattoo parlor’ to get business; we Google things now … and it leads us right to [a business].”

Semanson said while she agreed with Levent “a little bit,” she didn’t think that the industrial setting was conducive to that kind of business.

“I would [be uncomfortable] about going into an industrial park to get a tattoo done,” Semanson said.

Levent asked that commissioners vote to prohibit tattoo shops in overlays in his district, referencing upcoming items on meeting agendas to prohibit tattoo shops in the Atlanta Highway, Campground and Peachtree overlays.

Chairman Alfred John asked Levent to think of the county as a whole, saying that he was concerned tattoo shops would be pushed into other districts if commissioners prohibited them in all the overlays.

“You can’t just think about your district; this is a conversation for the whole county,” John said.

While Semanson said that she wasn’t “running out to get a full sleeve [of tattoos],” she didn’t understand the aversion to removing tattoo shops from the adult entertainment definition.

“I understand that sometimes people just don’t like things,” Semanson said. “But other people have other life choices and other ways of making money that are legal.”

Levent said that he did not have an aversion to removing tattoo shops from the adult entertainment definition, but he did not want tattoo shops in District 3.

“I’m not going to say nasty things about the initiative, I just prefer it not be in my district, that’s all,” Levent said.

Mills asked Levent and Semanson if they would work together to look at setbacks and other restrictions that could be used in language for a CUP.

Levent said that he would not be “on any committee that even gives a resemblance that I’m trying to help this move forward.”

John then asked if Mills would be willing to work with Semanson at places where tattoo shops are successful, such as the cities of Alpharetta and Milton, and Dawson County to draft conditional use permit parameters. He also said that he would like to offer advice during the process.

The board did not take any action on the item but agreed to have Mills and Semanson bring the issue back at a later date with examples of hours of operation and setback requirements.