Evanston officials are considering tighter restrictions on massage parlors after two cases in which police made prostitution arrests at such facilities in just over a year.
Community and Economic Development Director Streve Griffin says those incidents led officials to consider changing the zoning regulations.
The recent prostitution cases involved two women arrested in April 2011 at the now-shuttered Carnation Spa at 1239 Chicago Ave. and the arrest of a woman earlier this month at Pretty Girl Massage at 1905 Howard St.
The proposed new rules, up for discussion at a meeting tonight of the Zoning Committee of the Plan Commission, would make massage parlors a special use in the business districts where they're now permitted by right.
The special use process gives aldermen the discretion to deny a business permission to operate for just about any reason they choose.
City officials say it should provide a way for officials to identify in advance shady operators who might use a massage parlor as a front for prostitution and deny them the permits required to open.
The staff memo also suggest limiting massage parlors to one within any 1,000 foot radius — which would effectively bar new massage parlors in much of downtown Evanston. Three such establishmens are currently located in or near downtown.
A city map showing massage parlor locations in and near downtown Evanston.
The staff report suggests that the separation requirement would "curb the clustering effect and any possible negative cumulative effects massage businesses may portray in mass."
The proposed new rules would not apply to schools that teach massage techniques or licensed health care facilities or doctors' offices.
City records currently list five massage parlor locations. In addition to the three in or near downtown and the one on Howard, there's one at 2914 Central St.
The staff report notes that Chicago has adopted more restrictive rules regarding locations for massage businesses than those proposed for Evanston and forecasts that the Chicago rules may be subject to legal challenge by massage therapists.
The Zoning Committee is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. in Room 2404 of the Civic Center.