N. Huntingdon denies foot-massage business

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

North Huntingdon zoning hearing board on Tuesday unanimously denied a proposed foot massage business, upholding the zoning officer's decision that it falls under the township's definition of an “adult business.”

Jiedan Li of Canonsburg requested an occupancy permit for a building at 21 Robbins Station Road, which zoning officer Tom McGuire denied, township engineer/planning director Andrew Blenko said.

A township ordinance regulating “adult-related businesses” includes “massage establishment” as “any establishment ... which provides the services of massage ... unless operated by a medial practitioner, chiropractor, or professional physical therapist licensed by the State of Pennsylvania.” The definition does not include an athletic club, gymnasium or spa where massage is offered as an “incidental or accessory service.”

“The issue is they meet this definition to a T,” McGuire said, because the employees are not licensed.

The township is not alleging wrongdoing, McGuire said.

“In our ordinance, the business is allowed as a conditional use,” McGuire said, meaning the applicant would have to appear in front of planning commission and township commissioners.

The applicant said that they don't fit into the township's definition of a massage establishment because they'd only massage feet, McGuire said. McGuire contended that there's no difference.

“Nowhere in that definition does it specifically say you're exempt if you (massage) feet,” McGuire said. “A massage establishment is classified as an adult business.”

McGuire said he denied the request in December.

The planning commission upheld that decision 4-0. President Jacqueline Willis was absent, and Erik Greenawalt served as president.

Following the denial, the applicant can file a request with planning commission or can appeal the zoning hearing board's decision to Common Pleas Court, McGuire said.

After the decision, Steve Chui, who served as translator for the Lis, said the Lis will not pursue the proposed business further in North Huntingdon.

Applicant Jiedan Li and her boyfriend Hui Li attended Tuesday's meeting. Hui Li said he owns a similar business in Canonsburg and his family owns the Gibsonia location, both of which have been open several years. Hui Li said he intended to help manage the North Huntingdon location.

Neither of the Lis are doctors, chiropractors or physical therapists, Chui said.

Chui said the employees expected at the North Huntingdon location are specially trained in China and licensed in New York City. He said Pennsylvania does not require a license for foot massage.

North Huntingdon officials called officials in Canonsburg and in Richland Township, called Gibsonia, where similar businesses are located.

“We did call both of those municipalities, and they reported that they had not had any problems or issues with them,” Blenko said.

Those businesses prove that Hui Li runs a legitimate business, Chiu said.

Chiu said the proposed massage business is legal.

Noticing a dearth of massage businesses in North Huntingdon, Hui Li thought the township might be a good market, Chiu said.

“A lot of people (are) in pain, and he can help them,” Chiu said.

In December, township planners heard a request for a conditional use approval for the massage parlor, and discovered issues to be addressed, Blenko said.

“When we reviewed what they had submitted, it was not in compliance with our ordinance,” Blenko said.

Township code dictates that any adult-related business — in the township, a massage parlor falls into that category — must be located a certain number of feet from other establishments, like churches, homes or schools.

Township measurements show that the business would have been located within 250 feet of a home and within 1,000 feet of a church, Blenko said.

To his knowledge, Blenko said, there are no massage parlors located in the township.

Blenko said he assumes the 1999 ordinance was written because “an illegitimate massage business could easily masquerade as a legitimate massage business.”

“Our ordinance doesn't say that you can't have a massage business. It says if it's a massage business that is not operated by a medical practitioner, a chiropractor or a professional ... then it's an adult-related business,” Blenko said.

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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