When is a massage parlor not a massage parlor?
When it is, say, an acupressure therapy clinic. When it offers the services of certified massage technicians and therapists in clinical white smocks laying healing hands on customers of the same sex.
And the key word is "same."
After listening to testimony for about an hour yesterday, county zoning hearing officer Robert C. Wilcox decided that he need not rule in the case of a Prince George's County woman who wants to open what she calls an acupressure therapy clinic in a shopping center near Maryland City, in the county's western corner. Wilcox decided that because Kyong H. Smith intends to have women massage women and men massage men, her proposed business does not qualify as a massage parlor under the county zoning code.
The zoning code specifies massages by "a person of the opposite sex," Wilcox said.
But under a county ordinance adopted late last year, the place is still considered a "massage establishment," and Smith, president of Utopia Health Inc., has a few hurdles to leap before she can start pressing the flesh in the Brock Bridge shopping center on Route 198.
Smith, of Laurel Lakes, is proposing a clinic with an office, waiting room, six massage rooms, showers, steam rooms and locker rooms. Her application is the first test of the new ordinance governing "massage establishments," proposed by County Councilor George Bachman last fall amid an uproar over North County massage parlors being closed by police because they were being used as fronts for prostitution.
That bit of local massage parlor history was raised at yesterday'shearing by Ray Szyperski of the Maryland City Civic Association, whose members voted unanimously last week to go on record opposing Smith's application. A massage parlor by any name, says Szyperski, smells as suspicious.
Szyperski told Wilcox about establishments in Glen Burnie, in Howard and Prince George's counties that were opened as either massage parlors or health spas and closed by police because theywere serving as fronts for prostitution. He said that the spot whereSmith wants to open her business is near a dance studio, a toy storeand a doughnut shop, all places frequented by youngsters.
If Smith's purpose is to provide physical therapy, Szyperski said, the area can do without her services, as it already has 15 to 20 chiropractors.
Smith, a native of Korea, is not running acupressure clinics anywhere else in Maryland now. She told Wilcox that she has taken 300 hours of training at the U.S. Acupressure Therapy Institute in Rockville. Her lawyer, Claudia Barber, told Wilcox she did not know if the school is licensed by the state or accredited by any professional association.
A check with directory assistance yesterday found no telephone number listed for the school.
Under the new ordinance, a person may not be licensed to give massages unless she has completed at least 200 hours of training "in a school with a curriculum approved bya professional organization recognized" by the county's director of licensing.
Barber said the county's licensing division is now checking up on all that. She said it appears that the issue has been bounced out of the jurisdiction of zoning law, into the realm of licensing.
County planner Richard Josephson agreed with that, then hedged.
"I think there's still a zoning issue somewhere," he said. "We'renot off the hook yet."