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Couple's settlement with city clears the way for tattoo studio

November 12, 2014

A three-year legal battle has ended in a settlement, making way for Tom and Elizabeth Preston to open a tattoo studio in Tempe. The effort was derailed in 2007 when residents complained the business would hurt neighborhood-revitalization efforts and lower their property values.

Tom Preston said he and his wife got news of the settlement Thursday.

“We’re super excited. Oh my gosh, we finally get to open,” he said.

The settlement includes an agreement that Tempe will not appeal a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling that required the city to reinstate the Prestons’ business-operating permit. Also, the Goldwater Institute, which represents the Prestons, will not sue Tempe for damages of lost investments and wages.

The Prestons also agreed to not place neon signs in the window and to apply for a new permit if they sell a certain percentage of their business to a partner.

Tempe City Councilman Joel Navarrosaid he is pleased with the compromise.

“It works for both parties so I think it’s a great win for everybody,” he said.

The Tempe City Council sided with residents in 2007, choosing not to grant the Prestons their operating permit and overturning a hearing officer and development review board’s recommendations. The council said it was protecting the interests of residents to guard their property values.

The conservative Goldwater Institute asked the Prestons if it could take their case. The institute saw the city’s decision as an affront to small businesses.

Clint Bolick, the institute attorney who represented the Prestons, said Thursday that he hoped Arizona cities would look to the Prestons’ case and think twice about standing in the way of a legal business.

“This is the ultimate David-versus-Goliath story,” Bolick said. “The city of Tempe acted in a . . . heavy-handed manner to keep a legitimate business out of a strip mall that has lots of vacancies. When the Prestons move in, it will be a signal that the little guy has rights, too.

Preston considers the settlement an opportunity to show Tempe neighbors who fought his permit that the tattoo industry is an upstanding trade.

“This shows you can’t just shut down a business because you don’t like it. We want to show people what we’ve already done in Mesa, that our studio is a place where police officers and working people come for tattoos because it’s safe,” he said. “All kinds of people have tattoos; we’re not going to bring any (negative) effects to the neighborhood.”

The Prestons own Virtual Reality Tattoos in Mesa.

Preston has spoken to the leasing company about opening Body Accents Tattoo and Piercing Studio at the strip mall near Scottsdale and McKellips roads where he had originally planned to open.

The Prestons hope to open their Tempe studio by August 1. They are planning a grand-opening party.

On tap for the party is the only tattoo Goldwater attorney Bolick plans to get in his lifetime. Bolick said he would celebrate the studio’s long-awaited opening by getting a scorpion inked on the finger he uses to type legal briefs.

“This will finally be over when the Prestons open and I get my tattoo,” Bolick laughed.

“He’s going to be our first tattoo,” Preston said. “I keep thinking about our first lawyer who told us to not to fight the city’s decision to refuse our permit because it would cost too much and we had no way of winning. We’re just so thankful to Goldwater . . . without them we would’ve given up.”



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