Ewing Township approves ordinance to confine tattoo parlors, pawn shops, bail bonding and adult businesses to Olden Avenue and Spruce Street areas.
Keep the rabble out!
That may be one way of describing the new Ewing ordinance limiting so-called undesirable businesses to “certain areas” of the township.
But that’s not the way Mayor Bert Steinmann, in a recent interview, described it. He shunned such media-driven terms as “rabble,” “seedy,” “unsavory” and “red-light” in describing potentially offensive business outlets.
Instead, the mayor touted the new ordinance for allowing what he calls new “adult entertainment” endeavors in Ewing — as long as they adhere to restrictions.
The ordinance — approved in June by a 4 to 1 vote of the town council — confines the location of strip joints, adult book and video stores, along with tattoo parlors, pawn shops, bail-bonding and check-cashing outlets to the Olden Avenue corridor and the light-industrial Spruce Street area.
Steinmann said the purpose was to give the township more control over where such businesses can locate, along with conditions under which they must operate.
The ordinance culminated two months of work by members of the township’s planning and zoning boards, redevelopment and environmental agencies, planning staff, township attorney, town council and himself, he said.
Under the old ordinance, Steinmann told the Observer, businesses could use loopholes to legally locate anywhere in the township outside of residential-zoned neighborhoods.
“Now, we’re not prohibiting them outright — just restricting them to certain areas,” he said.
The ordinance has a “host of conditions,” preventing the location of such businesses too close to schools, churches, residential areas and to each other, he said. They would also be limited in number to three of a kind in each of the two permitted areas. Also imposed is a closing time of 10 p.m.
Most of the potentially offensive businesses would be permitted only on North Olden Avenue from the McDonald’s restaurant at 1885 N. Olden east to the Trenton border. New strip clubs and other sexually explicit businesses — only one of which (Stevie T’s go-go on North Olden Ave.) currently exists anywhere in Ewing — would be confined to 4th and 5th Streets and Industry Court in the Spruce Street section.
While interest in setting up sexually explicit businesses has waned over the years largely due to the availability of such activity on the internet, Steinmann and other backers of the new ordinance say it provides a way to regulate such a business if one tries to move in.
The mayor said he has responded to several critics who voiced concerns at council meetings prior to passage of the ordinance.
“My feelings haven’t really changed. We live in a working-class neighborhood. It just doesn’t seem right to put it here,” one of the critics, Spruce Street area resident Lisa McLendon, said regarding locating the businesses in her neighborhood.
Her argument — that a business regarded as undesirable for one Ewing area should be deemed undesirable for all township areas — was supported by several others at the meetings.
After talking privately to McLendon and other critics, Steinmann said he emphasized one point. “I told them that if we didn’t do this, then a court could rule that they can put them in any commercial area, as long as it’s not residential,” the mayor said.
As a further safeguard, the mayor said he reminded critics that all new business proposals must still go through the township’s regular planning and zoning board processes.
Councilman Kevin Baxter was the lone member of the all-Democratic governing body to vote against the ordinance. The councilman told his council colleagues he believed all qualifying businesses should be allowed in any township commercial area.
“I don’t think all of these businesses should be put in one area,” Baxter said.
Steinmann said the new ordinance was triggered by the opening earlier this year of the town’s first tattoo parlor, Brand New Tattoo & Gallery, at 1509 Parkway Avenue.
That’s a prime spot, adjacent to the town’s proposed new town center at the former General Motors plant site — and far away from the confines of the Olden Avenue corridor.
There are some who feel that the inclusion of tattoo businesses shows that Ewing officials are out of touch with the times. While tattoos may have once had a stigma attached to them, today a large portion of the population — mostly younger people — sport body art.
Recent studies back up this assertion. Harris Polls conducted in 2003 and 2008 report that an estimated 16 percent (2003) and 14 percent (2008) of Americans now have one or more tattoos.
The numbers are even greater when looking at people under age 40. A 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 36 percent of those ages 18 to 25, and 40 percent of those ages 26 to 40, have at least one tattoo.
Now grandfathered in under the old zoning, Brand New Tattoo & Gallery owner and licensed artist Michael Clugsten said he couldn’t be there on Parkway Avenue if the new ordinance had been in place at the time he located there.
Clugsten made it very clear that he doesn’t consider his business to be adult oriented, or one that impacts upon the character of the community.
“We run a very respectable business,” he said. “We love doing business in Ewing and couldn’t be more happy.”
Agreeing with Clugsten is Mel Leipzig, noted New Jersey artist and long-time professor of fine arts and art history at Mercer County College. He said the portion of the ordinance regarding tattoos was “disgusting,” “stupid,” and “absurd.”
“It’s an unfair judgment to lump tattoo places in with adult book stores,” said Leipzig. “I mean what are they afraid of? That they are going to attract porn shops?”
Leipzig, who retired from the college this year, said that his son Joshua is an artist in a tattoo shop in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
“I’ve actually done several paintings in the place where my son works,” Leipzig said. “They’re very decent people. My son is a good person. He’s more moral than most people.”
Leipzig said that he considers tattoos to be an art form just as legitimate as his own work.
“In fact, what my son does is more difficult than what I do,” Leipzig said. “If I make mistake, I can paint over it. If he makes a mistake, then you have to cut off the person’s arm,” he joked.
Leipzig, who is in his 70s, added that he feels the ordinance was generated by “a bunch of old people who don’t understand, and it’s prejudicial against young people. My daughter has tattoos. My niece has them. It’s a big thing now with the younger generation. It’s a major way of identifying yourself as a person.”
“It’s like a lot like when I was young and people didn’t want their kids to become artists. My father didn’t want me to be an artist,” he said. “Now I’m worth a lot more money than my parents ever were.”