Massage therapists opposing proposed city zoning limits on their businesses say the rules would do nothing to solve the problem they claim to address.
Steve Rogne, owner of Zen Shiatsu Chicago, at 825 Chicago Ave., says the rules would only impose special use permit requirements on businesses that claim massage as their main business activity.
But both the prostitution busts in the past year, Rogne says, occurred at businesses operating as spas or aupuncture centers — which, along with physical therapy clinics and medical offices, would be exempt from the ordinance's requirements.
And Rogne says the fear expressed in the proposed ordinance that a "clustering" of massage businesses would damage a neighborhood is unfounded.
In his neighborhood, Rogne says, within a two-block radius, at least four businesses offer massage and bodywork services.
"Our clients always walk in with shopping bags from the neighboring stores. These massage and bodywork businesses make the Main Street neighborhood a desirable destination," Rogne says, "and any of the community leaders I’ve had the pleasure to serve with in the Main Street Merchant’s Association can attest to our value."
Elvis Dur, a licensed massage therapist whose Body in Balance studio is at 2914-16 Central St. in Evanston, said he was shocked to learn that city officials had identified his business in a list of massage operations of the sort that would be restricted by the proposed ordinance.
Jean Robinson, the government relations director for, Associated Bodyworks and Massage Professionals, a national organization that claims 3,230 members in Illinois, says the proposed ordinance would give an "unfair economic advantage" to businesses that provide other services in addition to massage.
In a letter to the city, Robinson says massage therapists are already licensed by the state and as part of that licensing process have passed a criminal background checks.
She says the city's "concerns with respect to illicit activity could be addressed by the far less onerous step of merely requiring that massage practitioners provide evidence of their current state license" before obtaining a city business license."
The Zoning Committee of the Plan Commission is scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinance at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 16.