Planning & Zoning Chairman cites “lingering questions” as reason for denial
by Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (September 27, 2018) – For the second time this year, Lansing’s Planning and Zoning Board heard the request of a massage parlor to obtain a special use permit to occupy 3674 Ridge Road. Seung Oh, owner of VIP Lansing Spa Inc., was present at the September 26 meeting with his attorney and translator Peter Lee, who pleaded Oh’s case for the permit.
3674 Ridge Road is a former chiropractic office in downtown Lansing that is currently vacant.
Any massage business looking to open in Lansing must first request a special use permit from the Village Board because Lansing currently hosts the maximum number of such businesses allowed by the Village ordinances. A petitioner looking to receive this permit must submit an application and appear before the Planning and Zoning Board, which does research and asks questions of the petitioner before making a recommendation to the Village Board to either grant or deny the request.
Researching the applicant
Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Saad Abbasy oversaw the proceedings and inquired about Oh’s past involvement with massage parlors, particularly Hong Kong Spa in Warren, Ohio. Abbasy cited multiple internet articles asserting that Hong Kong Spa was shut down by the city of Warren in 2012 due to prostitution-related concerns.
Oh confirmed that he had owned Hong Kong Spa but claimed, with Lee translating, that he chose to shut down the business “of his own volition,” independent of the city’s investigations.
Commissioner Cathy Hallow inquired into Oh’s current address in Ohio, claiming that there was a business listed there called “Susie Kim’s Spa,” which closed in 2014.
Oh denied Hallow’s claim through Lee, who said, “someone may have used his address but he does not know.”
Members of the public were given the chance to comment on the matter, and Lansing resident Michael Bolz took the opportunity to share some of his concerns.
“I know other villages and cities in Illinois have struggled to maintain integrity with some of these establishments, and so I would ask that you hold off on the current request,” said Bolz.
Bolz also recommended that the Planning and Zoning Board look into ordinances of other cities that are designed to better regulate businesses like massage parlors.
Chris Watson, who owns the property in dispute, was present at the meeting as well and sat with Oh and Lee at the petitioner’s table to support them.
Watson said she “would love to be able to have [VIP Lansing Spa] there,” and assured the commissioners that she “also want[s] the integrity of the Village to be upheld.”
Voting to deny
After the question portion of the meeting was over, the Planning and Zoning Board unanimously voted to recommend that VIP Lansing Spa Inc. be denied a special use permit, a recommendation that will come before the Village Board.
After the vote, Lee, Oh, and Watson gathered in the lobby of the courtroom and discussed the board’s decision.
“We’re disappointed…I think [the P&Z Board] were prejudiced to some extent by this pervasive thinking that there must be something going on [with this type of business]. …We are sort of a victim of the news that comes out. I guess they need to do more research into particular applications instead of trying to do it just based on their general knowledge,” Lee said, referring Chairman Abbasy’s and other commissioners’ research done on Google.
Abbasy said he had done a “Google search in the public domain” and had seen multiple articles referring to some massage parlors in Warren, Ohio, that had been closed due to “suspected adult sexual activities” and that Hong Kong Spa was included in the list.
The Lansing Journal executed a similar Google search and found a number of reliable articles about Hong Kong Spa being investigated and shut down for links to prostitution.
Regarding a possible bias against massage parlors, Abbasy responded, “Certainly not. There’s no bias. We take each individual applicant at face value. The information that we have was provided to us by the applicant, and some of the things that were brought up through simple Google searches were cause for questioning. There’s certainly not a bias towards any business type; it’s on an individual basis.”
VIP Lansing Spa Inc. is the second massage parlor to request a special use permit for 3674 Ridge Road this year. The first, Lily’s Hot Stone Massage Inc. was denied its request in March for reasons similar to the ones surrounding VIP Lansing Spa Inc.’s request.
VIP Lansing Spa Inc.’s special use request and the Planning and Zoning Board’s recommendation will go before the Village Board’s Committee of the Whole Meeting on October 2 and the vote to grant or deny the request will take place on October 16.