Town error leads uncertain future for tattoo artist

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A public notice error on Black Mountain's part may mean a proposed tattoo shop won't open here.

Chris Sheehan was ready to open a studio in The Village of Cheshire - town aldermen passed an ordinance July 11 permitting his business to be a conditional use in traditional neighborhood zoning district - but during a July 28 hearing to get the public's thoughts, Cheshire residents said they didn't want a tattoo studio in their community. And then Sheehan learned that a clerical error could prevent him from opening at all.

Sheehan said he is disappointed.

"I see that there's a healthy dose of discrimination and bias present in the town," Sheehan told the board of aldermen during its regular August meeting. "The reason I say that is because most of the folks that were upset in Cheshire about the announcement that I may be there never bothered to get to know what I was going to do.

"Many of the people that showed up to the conditional use meeting met me and said 'it's nothing personal,'" Sheehan said. "But it is personal."

It wasn't residents' concerns that halted the project, however. What stopped it was a clerical error regarding the public hearing, according to town manager Matt Settlemyer.

"We are required to publicize public hearings and notices of meetings, which we do, and typically do a good job with in general," he said. "But, you have a 10- to 14-day window to announce public hearings, and we did not make that timeline."

The notice ran in The Black Mountain News on July 21 and 28. The public hearing was held July 28.

Not satisfying the requirement led to the invalidation of an amendment, passed unanimously by aldermen on July 11, that would have allowed Sheehan to open his business in Cheshire.

"That was a staff error," Settlemyer said. "We publicized it twice, but it was a few days short of the 10-day requirement."

Settlemyer said the Sheehan did nothing to cause the ordinance to become invalid. "Chris followed the procedures presented to him by the town," he said.

Residents' concerns over the location Sheehan selected was an entirely different issue.

"The board is considering the rights for a tattoo studio and the opinions of the community," Settemyer said. "At some point in the future they may consider holding a hearing to address tattoo studios in Black Mountain, but currently they have yet to give direction on hearing this particular issue again."

Sheehan said he moved to Black Mountain with his family because he believed the town would be an ideal place for him and his family. Now he's not so sure.

"I am disappointed with the treatment I've received here," he said. "I'm really not sure whether or not I will continue to pursue opening a shop here. But I do want people to know that the person that they have judged me to be is not who I am."

He's also concerned that what he perceives to be a lack of acceptance could hinder growth.

"If that's the attitude of a large segment of the town, then there are good businesses that may not have the opportunity to open here," Sheehan said. "And is that really the mindset that fits the community?"

Settlemyer said the town is attempting to "grow responsibly by balancing growth and the needs of the community."

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