V.i.p. Owner Files Lawsuit Against County

Judge Denies Request To Reopen Business

September 01, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

A County Circuit judge Friday denied a request by a Linthicum massage parlor, shut down last month for violating county zoning laws, to reopen its doors.

The hearing came moments after the owner of V.I.P. Health Center, 500 Camp Meade Road, filed suit against the county alleging discrimination.

Circuit Court Judge Eugene Lerner, in denying the request to reopen, set a Sept. 13 hearing date for the case.

"I don't know how I can issue an injunction if it's illegal on its face," Lerner said, referring to zoning regulations that prohibit massage parlors where thespa is located.

Michael P. May, V.I.P.'s Baltimore attorney, saidthe establishment wants to reopen as a health spa and acupressure center. Acupressure is a form of massage.

May said his client, V.I.P. owner George Pappas of Norcross, Ga., is losing up to $1,800 a day because of the closure.

Zoning officials, assisted by police, closed V.I.P. Aug. 8 for operating a massage parlor in an area where suchestablishments are not permitted.

Police vice officers, who had been investigating V.I.P. for a year, reported observing female masseuses manually stimulating male clients, an activity not covered under solicitation laws.

The suit maintains that V.I.P. was "at all times . . . lawfully utilized as a health center and acupressure center."

It alleges that V.I.P. was "improperly singled out and isolated for selective and improper zoning enforcement" because police found nocriminal activity and "because a number of the plaintiff's employeesare Oriental."

"This is a pretty wild complaint," said Jamie Baer, assistant county attorney assigned to zoning enforcement. "There are a number of inaccuracies in it, to say the least."

The suit saysV.I.P. is located in a general commercial district, which permits massage parlors. At Friday's hearing, May said V.I.P.'s building and zoning permits show it is in a general commercial district.

The zoning was changed from general commercial to community retail on June 12, 1989, more than a year before V.I.P. received its zoning permit. County officials said they don't know how V.I.P. was given permits showing the old zoning district.

Massage parlors are allowed only as special exceptions in general and highway commercial districts, meaning a public hearing must be held.

Massage is permitted as an accessory use in health spas, but neither police nor zoning inspectors found evidence that V.I.P. was being used as a health spa. No exercise equipment was found. Women who tried to buy a membership at V.I.P. reported that they were turned away.

Besides asking that V.I.P. be allowed to reopen, the suit asks that the county pay the plaintiff's legal fees and that police be prohibited from enforcing zoning laws at V.I.P. in the future. The suit alleges that zoning enforcement is "well beyond the mission of the . . . Anne Arundel County Police Department."

Police Chief Robert Russell and Zoning Administrator Richard Josephson are named as co-defendants in the suit.

County attorneyssaid police may enforce zoning laws, since zoning violations are criminal in nature.

One day before V.I.P. was shut down, police and zoning officials closed another North County massage parlor, Rose's Oriental Spa, 7484-E Candlewood Road in Hanover. Rose's also was violating zoning laws and, police said, providing manual stimulation to male clients.

Since then, Rose's owners have been working with zoningofficials to meet requirements for a health spa, Baer said. They have ordered $20,000 worth of exercise equipment and changed their floorplan, she said.

"They want to run a legitimate place. We have notcommitted ourselves to issuing a certificate of use until we see thefinal product," Baer said.

The furor over the two massage parlorsmakes its way to the County Council Tuesday, when Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum, will introduce a bill to crack down on massage establishments.

The bill requires massage technicians to have at least 500 hours of training from a nationally recognized massage institution or 100 hours of training and a license from the Department of Inspections and Permits.

The proposed legislation makes it illegalfor masseuses to touch "erogenous areas" and for masseuses with lessthan 500 hours of training to treat members of the opposite sex.

May said Pappas, who was not in court Friday, denies the reports of sexually stimulation. "I have no reason to disbelieve him," May said. "These are delightful clients and hard-working people."

Staff writer Peter Hermann contributed to this story.

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