In part to allow a new commercial business to open in Perimeter Mall, Dunwoody City Council on June 22 changed its zoning code to allow more space for businesses offering massages.
The change means the majority of 18 existing massage establishments in Dunwoody, such as the Atlanta School of Massage, now officially are allowed under the city’s zoning ordinance. Those that didn’t conform with city zoning rules were “grandfathered in” as existing prior to the regulations and were allowed to continue operating.
The proposed change came about after the owners of The Woodhouse Day Spa applied for a permit to open in Perimeter Mall, which was not zoned to allow massage.
Woodhouse Day Spa owners David and Khyshan Perlman, who are Dunwoody residents, said they want to have their flagship location in Dunwoody. They already have 40 locations in the United States. They plan to open 200 more, they said.
The Perlmans plan to invest in a 6,000-square-foot space in the mall. “We will be investing upwards of seven figures in build-out and equipment,” David Perlman said.
“We as the owners will be onsite often to make sure the high standards we set are being upheld,” Khyshan Perlman added.
Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said she welcomes The Woodhouse Day Spa to Dunwoody, but she’s concerned about unintended consequences in defining massage businesses similarly to day spa businesses that offer personal improvement services such as manicures and facials.
“There are day spas, and there are massage parlors, and they are really, really, really not the same thing in general,” Deutsch said to council June 8. “There is an acknowledgement that massage parlors and strip clubs are an integral part of the sex trafficking industry in this county.”
City staff members say regulations—not zoning—help control illegitimate businesses that offer massage. Reclassifying massage as a “personal improvement service” rather than an adult service facility does nothing to change the fact that a masseuse must hold a state license, Community Development Director Steve Foote said.
Massage providers also must undergo a full police background check, said Officer Tim Fecht, who speaks for the Dunwoody Police.
Foote said many businesses in Dunwoody offered massage but did not comply with the city’s zoning so a wording change seemed warranted to make those businesses legal, he said.
Deutsch, the sole council member to vote against the change, said she worried businesses “that only offer one service” might choose Dunwoody over nearby cities, such as Chamblee, which allows massage businesses only in industrial areas of the city. Dunwoody’s change would allow massage businesses in office areas as well, she said.
She also said if some of the “less than pristine” massage business owners go out of business, those businesses don’t need to be replaced.
“We have areas in Dunwoody that are not upscale and are transitional at best,” she said.
Other communities regulate massage businesses in different ways.
Sharon Kraun, a spokeswoman for Sandy Springs, said Sandy Springs differentiates between businesses offering facials and complementary neck or arm massage for manicure clients and businesses that charge for full-body massage or offer massage as a separate product.
Sandy Springs and Atlanta allow massage parlors in areas zoned for commercial or mixed use.
City Solicitor Bill Riley said Dunwoody doesn’t have the population to support illegitimate massage businesses. “I think what we have for enforcement is effective here,” he said.
Assistant City Attorney Lenny Felgin said he doesn’t see a problem. Many illegal businesses in Doraville and Johns Creek have been shut down in part because of the ordinance Dunwoody already adopted, he said.“Our licensing ordinances and code enforcement are the tools that we have—and they’re very good tools—to find out administratively and judiciously the massage or spa establishments that are not legitimate,” Felgin said.