Millbrae considers relaxing regulations for spas, massage

The city may decide to relax distance requirements for massage and bathing businesses in an effort to entice these establishments to its tiny downtown.

Day spas and fitness clubs are required to be at least 1,200 feet from residential areas, schools, churches and playgrounds and at least 500 feet away from each other, according to the Millbrae municipal code.

The city actually approved stricter rules in 2002, doubling the distance of 250 feet previously required between similar businesses. But officials have since realized that the city's small downtown is already very close to residential areas, making it hard for more than one such business to be there, City Planner David Petrovich said. Furthermore, city staff said they believe the required background and accreditation check performed by the Police Department will be sufficient in weeding out illegitimate businesses.

“We felt they should be treated like any normal business,” Petrovich said. “Because that's exactly what they are.”

The issue heads to the City Council this month, after the Planning Commission lastweek gave the change its unanimous approval.

A handful of mixed-use developments under construction, one of which is scheduled to house a 24-Hour Fitness gym, are expected to significantly boost the city's small retail base.

“We're trying to invigorate our downtown,” Petrovich said. “And that's exactly where these kinds of businesses will want to locate.”

The proposed changes would put Millbrae in line with many neighboring cities’ requirements. San Mateo had a distance requirement for massage parlors until 1994 but now only requires the normal background check and permit process, City Attorney Shawn Mason said.

San Mateo police Lt. Tom Daughtry said the background check in his city also includes an anatomy test administered by a chiropractor contracted with the city. Licensed massage therapists must renew their permit every two years, he said.

“It's pretty intensive, definitely,” Daughtry said.

tramroop@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocalPeninsula

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