Tattoo Parlor License Revocation by Tempe Ruled Unlawful; City Considering Its Next Move

Following a court order, the Tempe City Council will discuss at its meeting tonight what to do next with a the case of a tattoo parlor that had its business license revoked after neighbors complained it might make the area seem seedy.

The Tempe City Attorney's office confirmed the court decision announced yesterday by the Goldwater Institute, which is helping litigate the case for the people who want to set up the shop, Tom and Elizabeth Preston. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Oberbillig ruled the city council improperly revoked the permit.

Andrew Ching, the city's attorney, called back to say the ruling was not a total victory for the tattoo shop.

Oberbillig "didn't award them any damages, didn't award them attorney's fees," Ching says. "And he specifically found there were not Constitutional violations."

The path normally taken in Tempe by people who want to open a shop is to have their case heard by a hearing officer, then by a neighborhood review commission board. After that, the city council takes a vote on the issue if any neighbors of the planned shop have launched a protest, which is what happened in this case.

However, the judge seems to believe that once the hearing officer and review board signed off on the shop, the business owners had a "vested right" to the use permit, Ching says. That meant the only way the city could revoke it was to proceed with revocation hearings that involve their own hurdles for the applicants and city.

Ching says the city may appeal the case. He'll be discussing the issue tonight in executive session at the city council meeting.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.