This West Side storefront on Detroit Avenue could become a new tattoo shop, if the Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals approves a variance.
This West Side storefront on Detroit Avenue could become a new tattoo shop, if the Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals approves a variance. Credit: Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals

The Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals doesn’t sound like the setting for high drama. But for small businesses with matters before the board, there’s real money on the line. 

Consider this week’s meeting. Business owners, FirstEnergy representatives, a City Council member and others filled the board’s meeting room on the fifth floor of City Hall.

They were ready to go. The same couldn’t be said of the board itself, though. 

Only two of the board’s four members showed up, one in person and one via Zoom. Just one more member was needed for the board to have a quorum. Around 20 minutes after the meeting’s start time, it became clear that the one other member expected to show – an attorney who was stuck in a trial – wouldn’t be coming. 

Everyone would have to be rescheduled for October, the board secretary announced. 

That didn’t go over well with Justin McCrocklin, who is trying to open a tattoo parlor on Detroit Avenue in Cleveland’s Edgewater neighborhood. McCrocklin needs a zoning variance to open and has been waiting weeks for a hearing. He spoke up, telling the board he couldn’t wait much longer. 

Cleveland zoning laws hold tattoo parlors at more than arm’s length. They’re not allowed to open within 1,000 feet of residential districts, churches, playgrounds, schools, libraries and recreation centers. The rules sound quaint in an era in which it seems almost everyone is inked.

“I have to keep paying rent until a decision is made,” McCrocklin wrote to Signal Cleveland in an email after the meeting. “I’m doing this all on my own and out of pocket. I’m not rich by any means.”

Eventually, after some back and forth, the board agreed to shoehorn the tattoo case onto its Sept. 25 agenda. 

Monday’s ordeal shows how decisions at City Hall can ripple into the neighborhoods in unforeseen ways. 

There are five seats on the Board of Zoning Appeals, all appointed by the mayor. But only four are filled currently. 

Kelley Britt, the former board chair, retired recently. Another member, Terri Hamilton Brown, left the board and became the city’s interim economic development director after Mayor Justin Bibb fired the previous director, Tessa Jackson. 

The board swore in attorney Arleesha Wilson this summer to fill one of the two vacancies. Mayor’s office press secretary Marie Zickefoose told Signal Cleveland that the administration is working to fill the other spot. 

In the meantime, there’s little room for absences on the four-member zoning board, whose power is felt even when it can’t make any decisions at all. 

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Government Reporter (he/him)
Nick joins us from the world of public radio, where he has 10 years' experience covering politics and government in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Last year he produced and hosted "After Jackson: Cleveland's Next Mayor," an Ideastream Public Media podcast on the Cleveland mayoral race. He has also covered breaking news, opioid lawsuits and elections nationally for NPR.