The Saline Zoning Board of Appeals granted a variance that should allow Mulan Massage Center to open its doors in the coming weeks.
Members of the board spend nearly two hours trying to find a solution for the applicant, which finished revamping their center in The Oaks studio, but who haven’t been able to open because of some confusing language in the city’s building and zoning codes.
The massage parlor had already received a letter from former building official Taylor Tillman saying it should be in compliance with the zoning ordinance. So the owners signed a lease, submitted building permit plans, renovated the site in accordance with those plans.
Once they were done and ready to open, they learned they were in violation of an ordinance.
The ordinance states that “Each area in which massage is practiced shall be equipped with a hand lavatory.”
Mulan Massage is equipped with showers and several sinks, but in the massage rooms, there were only plans for Purell sanitizer dispensers.
Bill Kinley, one of the owners of The Oaks, said it was a strange situation.
“It’s probably the only time someone will come to the ZBA with a plumbing issue. A requirement for sinks should not be in the zoning ordinance, but it should be in the building code,” Kinley said.
Because of the strange placement of the plumbing requirement, nobody caught the zoning issue until thousands of dollars had been spent converting the former cleaner into a massage parlor.
Nobody spoke during a public hearing on the issue.
The Zoning Board members tried various ways to help the applicant, understanding that installing plumbing would require tearing up the floor and walls – an expensive proposition which would impact neighboring businesses.
The board agreed with member Bill Beardsley’s assessment that a lavatory didn’t necessarily need plumbing – that there were portable sinks with a hot and cold water that would do more than Purell.
That might have alleviated the need for a variance. But according to Brian Kung, real estate agent for Mulan Massage Center, the portable sinks were expensive would take considerable room in the fairly small massage rooms.
Andrew Madonna motioned to deny the request for a variance, given the applicant could now use a portable sink because of the board’s interpretation of “lavatory.” But nobody seconded the motion.
Then Bill Beardsley motioned to approve the variance. He argued that not granting the variance would be a hardship, and that it was a hardship not created by the applicant.
But this motion, too, died for lack of support.
Kung told the ZBA that the masseurs use the sanitizer after the massage, before washing their hands – not instead of washing their hands. Roubal suggested the placement of signage telling employees to wash their hands after a massage.
After another 40 minutes of discussion, Beardsley made another motion: That the variance be granted subject to the installation of permanent medical or commercial strength sanitizer stations, and that this requirement also be placed in the city’s license with the massage parlor.
The ZBA voted 5-0 in favor of Beardsley’s motion.
Following the meeting, Kung said the owners of the massage parlor hope to open as soon as possible.
Earlier this year, Canton Township denied a license for the Mulan Massage Center there after it learned of an investigation into the center.
According to the Detroit Free Press and Canton Township Board documents the Ford Road establishment was investigated by a joint task force from Canton Township police, the Oakland County Sheriff and the Department of Homeland Security. The investigation determined women were “habitually residing” in the business, according to Canton Township documents. The Asian women living on the premises were also not licensed by the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the investigation was ongoing. The Free Press reported there was a wider investigation of human trafficking.
Kung said Mulan Massage Center was cleared of all charges.
“It was an isolated incident with a manager and employee and the owners weren’t aware of what was going on,” Kung said, when asked about women living in the centers.
Kung assured the public the same thing would not happen with the Saline location.