From The Tampa Bay Tribune, By Dave Nicholson
Plant City’s ban on tattoo and body-piercing studios in the downtown historic district has survived a legal challenge.
Licensed tattoo artist David S. Hudder took the city to court over its denial of his request to open a shop at 109 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. He contended the city’s exclusion of the businesses was unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich sided with the city, which contends tattoo studios are not compatible with downtown’s “family-oriented” image. Thomas P. Scarritt Jr. of Scarritt Law Group in Tampa, who represented the city, said he didn’t think the city’s restriction was unreasonable, “and we’re pleased that the court agreed.” Scarritt said 86 percent of the commercially zoned property in Plant City is open for tattoo and body-piercing shops. “We are restricting them from a very small section of downtown,” he said.
Hudder’s attorney, Jeffrey C. Blumenauer of Clermont, said he was unsure if he would appeal. Blumenauer said he was disappointed in the ruling but was pleased that Kovachevich’s order recognized that “tattooing is protected First Amendment speech under the U.S. Constitution, which itself is a victory.”
Hudder, who owns Dixie Station Tattoos at 606 E. Baker St., wants to relocate to the 5,000-square-foot East Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard building he owns. He lives on the second floor of the building, and the shop would be on the first floor, according to Kovachevich’s order.
The judge wrote that the city was within its authority to exclude tattoo shops from downtown. The city contended “tattoo establishments do not support the regular needs of residents, appeal to narrow clientele, are not family-oriented businesses and detract from a pedestrian-friendly, walkable downtown environment.” The judge also ruled that the city’s exclusion of the shops didn’t violate constitutionally protected freedom of expression. The city had an outright ban of tattoo shops and body-piercing studios until 2012, when City Attorney Ken Buchman advised city commissioners that the law wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge. The city changed its ordinance to allow them in commercial zoning areas except for historic downtown and the Midtown redevelopment area just south of downtown.