Council eyes strip joints, massage parlors

WATERVILLE — The downtown will have no porn shops, nudity, strip joints, escort services, massage parlors or other adult entertainment if the Planning Board has its way.
The board recommends the City Council vote to prohibit such activities downtown, excluding massage therapists who are licensed by the state. Councilors June 2 will consider the request.
“You don’t want to end up where Vassalboro is, where they’re trying to pass things after the fact,” Planning Board member Erik Thomas said Tuesday. “To me, it’s better to be proactive about these things.”
Thomas was referring to a controversial topless coffee-and-doughnut shop in Vassalboro whose owner wants to expand it into a strip club.
Thomas and three other Planning Board members voted May 18 to recommend councilors approve prohibiting adult entertainment downtown. Planning Board Chairman David Geller was the lone dissenter.
Geller could not be reached Tuesday for comment. But Thomas and Planning Board member Marc Chadbourne said apparently some business owners downtown have complained about people coming into their buildings and asking where the massage parlors are — and that is what prompted discussion about a proposed zoning change.
But Thomas said if councilors approve the change, any existing adult entertainment businesses would not be affected.
“Obviously, we can’t create a law after the fact, so they’ll be grandfathered.”
Arthur Richard, owner of Relaxalon, a massage parlor on Main Street downtown, said if his business is grandfathered, he is fine with such a zone change.
“If it doesn’t affect me, there’s no problem,” he said.
Richard has owned Relaxalon about 15 years. It is located above the former Subway shop at the corner of Temple and Main streets.
“We do rubdowns, topless or in a G-string,” he said. “Sometimes, depending on the price, they also do it nude.”
He said his is the only massage parlor left downtown, compared with a few years ago, when there were three.
“They’re all gone now, that I know of,” he said.
He said he understands why some people don’t want massage parlors downtown, but he tries to keep a low profile by not putting out a sign advertising the business and by making sure his women employees do not break the rules and engage in prostitution.
“I go through girls pretty fast sometimes because there are a lot of places in Augusta that offer a full service,” he said. “When I advertise for girls I usually try to advertise ‘No experience preferred.’ They can make decent money without breaking the law.”
He said some massage parlors operate in homes where children are present — and in hotel rooms — and he thinks that is wrong.
“They’re not legitimately set up as a business and they don’t pay taxes,” he said.
City Manager Michael Roy and Council Chairman Dana Sennett, D-Ward 4, said Tuesday that they were not aware the Planning Board voted to recommend prohibiting adult entertainment downtown.
Roy said the Planning Board has been working on other potential zoning changes such as a proposed change restricting where home occupations are allowed in the city. Home occupations are businesses located in people’s homes.
“This is a continuation of all the ordinance work we’ve been doing,” he said. “The city asked (City Planner) Ann (Beverage) to look at the Zoning Ordinance which hasn’t been revised as a whole in many, many years.”
Beverage was out of the office Tuesday. Sennett said he is curious to see how the recommended zone change for adult entertainment downtown is presented to councilors at their 7 p.m. meeting June 2.
“We’d have to find out what’s caused this sudden interest in changing the ordinance,” Sennett said. “Is it the whim of one or two, or is it the consensus of a large number? Are we reacting to Vassalboro’s ordinance or is this a serious problem that we should be looking into?”
Sennett said he thinks, however, that the downtown would better served by businesses other than strip joints and massage parlors.
“It doesn’t really fit into Waterville’s downtown plan,” he said. “I’d have a hard time approving tax increment financing money for a strip joint or a massage parlor in downtown Waterville.”
Mayor Paul R. LePage opposes the Planning Board’s recommendation, as it is the council which is charged with initiating policy changes and then asking the Planning Board to review and recommend how the council should vote on such requests, he said.
“If the City Council wants to do it, fine,” he said. “We’ll debate it.”
The city currently has rules that prohibit nudity in establishments where alcohol is served. But someone could potentially open a strip club and serve coffee and doughnuts, a prospect LePage finds distasteful.
“I think eating donuts and drinking coffee and watching strippers is repulsive,” he said. “That’s bad for indigestion.”
Massage parlors also are undesirable, he said.
“I’m not into that stuff,” he said. “I don’t think Waterville needs that.”
City Solicitor William Lee confirmed Tuesday that there is nothing prohibiting nudity in the city unless it occurs at a business where alcohol is served.
“The Vassalboro topless doughnut shop could open up a branch in the city of Waterville if it wished, under the current zoning,” Lee said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247