The City Council voted unanimously at Monday’s meeting that massage businesses operating in Crown Point will now need a special use permit.
Previously, Crown Point did not have specific zoning control over such businesses that set up shop within city limits.
“Prior to Ordinance 2024-02-04, massage establishments with a state license could open in a business district in Crown Point without going before a city board or commission,” said Crown Point Mayor Pete Land. “The new ordinance requires the business owner to appear before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) and the City Council and request a special use change. “This process allows board members and City Council members to review the proposed use to see if it is compatible with the desired zoning district.”
Land said the change to the city’s zoning ordinance was made not only in response to the November 2023 arrest of the Crown Point couple who own Relax Massage at 1451 Summit St., Crown Point. They were accused of using massage businesses, including Jade Massage, located at 9001 E. 109th Avenue, Winfield, as fronts for prostitution and human trafficking.
“We certainly don’t want to own any business that devalues the city and the community,” Land said.
Although existing massage businesses are grandfathered under the amended zoning ordinance, new massage businesses must now petition the city for a special use permit, Land said.
He noted that a massage business would be considered subject to various zoning laws and the BZA’s decision, just like other businesses that require a special use permit, such as a gas station. BZA makes a positive or negative recommendation to the City Council, which will have the final say on the issue.
“We want to make sure that everyone follows the rules that are in place, and we are enforcing those rules,” Land said, noting that the city has 35-40 types of businesses that require special use permits.
Local massage businesses allegedly promote prostitution
In the Relaxation Massage case, Guan Yu, 44, and Wujiao Liu, 45, were charged with promoting human trafficking, a Level 4 felony; promoting prostitution is a Level 5 misdemeanor; and failure to pay taxes held in trust is a Level 6 misdemeanor, according to Lake County’s affidavit. In addition, Liu faces charges of money laundering and battery against a public security officer; both Level 6 felonies.
Police found $15,000 in cash at Jade Massage, including $12,000 in a bag in the kitchen. They found $70,000 in cash at the couple’s home in the 600 block of E. 113th Place in Crown Point, the affidavit said.
Liu is also accused of funneling large amounts of tax-free cash to the Hard Rock Casino in Gary by purchasing gaming chips. Authorities also allege the two massage parlors were not properly registered with the state to pay sales tax.
Yu and Liu also own the Sakura KJ restaurant at 204 S. Main Street in Crown Point and 10819 Randolph St. in Winfield. He was also the owner of the Yamato sushi restaurant at. The two restaurants were underreporting taxable income, claiming $0 cash income each, according to court documents.
The couple is scheduled to appear in court on August 19.
Jim Masters is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.