During its regular May meeting Monday (May 14), The Duluth City Council unanimously passed even tougher ordinance changes to regulate massage businesses in the city than had been discussed in work session last Monday (May 7).
The changes limit the number of massage businesses in the city to seven, raise the business license fee from $50 to $1,500, and require owners to provide photo IDs, proof of state certification and fingerprints for massage therapists in their employ.
About 30 Duluth citizens attended the council meeting in support of the changes.
More stringent background checks will be required of massage business owners who apply for city licenses, their partners and managers. Existing businesses prior to July 1, 2012, will be grandfathered and allowed to continue operating until changing ownership, going out of business or violating the ordinance. According to City Clerk Teresa Lynn, there are now about 10 massage business operating in the city. License revocation is pending for one of the business, she said.
Lynn, who had been asked last week to research the cost of administering and monitoring the massage ordinance, reported to the council that it cost about $1,975. The council had previously discussed a $1,000 fee. The higher fee goes into effect June 1.
The $1,500 fee is certainly justified, said City Attorney Steven Pereira. “Hopefully, if the [revised] ordinance is successful these costs will decrease a little bit.”
Pereira drafted the ordinance changes at the request of city staff. The revisions add teeth to a massage ordinance adopted by the city in March 2011 that replaced a previous ordinance. The state regulates therapists, and the city regulates massage businesses. Business owners, not therapists, would be cited for violations. The owners could have their business licenses suspended or revoked, and the business could be shut down.
Independent massage therapists will be subject to the same requirements to obtain city business licenses. Spas will not be exempt, but chiropractors, physical therapists and trainers will be exempt.
The changes represent the city’s attempt to stop the proliferation of massage parlors, crack down on unlicensed massage therapists, and control prostitution.
Duluth Planning Director Glenn Coyne provided research to the council that supported limiting the number of massage businesses to three per 10,000 population in the city for a total of seven instead of the four per 10,000 or 10 total considered last week.
Massage businesses will only be allowed to locate in C-2 (commercial) districts. Also, a 150-foot buffer from residential areas will be required.
Duluth Police Det. Rick Thompson told the council that the photo ID requirements and fingerprinting will make it easier to identify unlicensed therapists. If identities can’t be verified, police will be allowed to fingerprint therapists to compare with applications on file.
The changes include a revised appeals procedure for massage business license suspensions, revocations and denials. The council will hear the appeals or appoint a hearing officer.
Duluth resident Greg Stewart, who lives near a massage business where police were involved in a shootout with armed robbers last year, urged the council to adopt the ordinance. “It could even be stronger,” he said.
Kelly Stewart, who owns a hair salon in the same shopping center as the massage business where the shootout occurred, informed the council that her business had declined and she was having difficulty hiring stylists. Stewart also said that a bullet from the shootout came into the salon. Fortunately, no one was at work at the time, she said.
Prostitutes, who apparently advertise on Craig’s List, frequent the parking lot with their cell phones, Kelly Stewart said. Vehicles pull in and pick them up, she said. (Kelly Stewart is not related to Greg Stewart.)
Thompson said that prostitutes often use massage parlors as a base of operation. They tell their customers to meet them in the parking lot, he said.
Massage therapist Dusty Graham, speaking in opposition, said the ordinance changes will drive out licensed massage therapists. He also said that the city of Doraville’s massage ordinance, used as a model for Duluth’s revisions, had not been effective in keeping out houses of prostitution.