Monday, April 20, 2015
Not the First Time Tsu Yue Wang Has Been Told: "No We Don't Want Your Business Here"! Prostitution Ring?!
In a 34-to-3 vote, the community board refused to grant the request made by the owner, Tsu Yue Wang, citing concerns about the scarcity of parking, the safety of the building and the potential for illicit activity.
Huang had wanted to develop the spa in a two-story apartment building in downtown Flushing. Anyone who seeks to open a health spa in the city must apply for a permit and be reviewed by the city Department of Investigation. The community board is the initial step in this process, ultimately making the recommendation to the borough president on whether to issue the permit. The Board of Standards and Appeals is the final arbiter.
The members of the board were concerned that the spa was to be built within 200 feet of a Roman Catholic church and school. The monsignor, Rev. Edward Wetterer of St. Michael's, told the board members that he was gravely worried that the spa would serve as a front for prostitution. John Watts, the chief of staff for City Councilwoman Julia Harrison (D-Flushing), also expressed similar concerns.
But Don Weston, an architect who spoke for Huang at the meeting, criticized the board's decision, saying his client had met whatever legal burden was imposed on him and that he was simply hoping to branch out into a new business venture.
Before the meeting Monday night, the community board had already held two closed committee meetings during which the application for 136-45 41st Ave. was discussed, said Chuck Apelian, the committee chairman.
Apelian said the first meeting got off on "a concerned foot" when they saw the applicant's last name, Huang. Immediately, he said, the committee thought that the original applicant, Tiffany Huang, was related to Tommy Huang, a Flushing businessman who owns the RKO Keiths Theater on Main Street.
In February 1999, Tommy Huang was sentenced to five years' probation and fined $5,000 for ignoring asbestos contamination in the landmarked theater and for spilling hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in its basement. The judge also ordered Huang to clean up the property, which has been on the market for several years.
Wang swore that neither he nor Tiffany Huang was related to Tommy Huang. Tsu Yue Wang and Tiffany Huang, whose relationship was not immediately clear, were required to file affidavits with the board attesting to that fact, Apelian said.
Apelian also said there were some inconsistencies and errors on the original application, most noticeably that the manager was listed as a tenant of the building when in facthe is the owner. In an interview, Weston called those errors "boo-boos that shouldn't have happened" and accepted blame for them.
The board members dwelled at length on the issue of whether the health spa might simply be camouflage for a brothel. The monsignor of St. Michael's said he had gathered the signatures of nearly 75 out of 3,000 parishioners who objected to the spa.
"We don't know what services or what kind of element would be offered," he told the board members. "If it is somewhat in line with people looking for sexual activity, that would draw an undesirable element."
Watts said both he and Harrison were firmly opposed to the spa for several reasons.
"The owner is a developer," Watts said. "The potential is great that we will have something illegal right across the street from St. Michael's."
But Weston, speaking for Wang, said the city required such an applicant to be investigated so as to root out possible prostitution. "We certainly have no intention to run a sex operation," Weston said in response to Watts' remarks.
Weston said the spa would accommodate no more than 22 people at any given time. The spa would offer patrons a massage parlor, a Jacuzzi, a sauna and a steam bath, he said, with provisions for a kitchen if Huang wanted to build one in the future. Weston also said Wang would employ 12 workers, all trained as masseurs and licensed by the state.
Although Huang had not applied for a liquor license, Weston said his client reserved the right to do so at a later date.
Several board members also voiced concerns about the scarcity of parking near where the spa would be built and about the safety of the building. Because the spa would accommodate 22 patrons or fewer at any one time, the owner would not be required to provide parking, Apelian, the committee chairman, said.
Nevertheless, Weston said his client had made arrangements with the owner of a nearby lot to use six of the lot's parking spots. Weston added that it was a moot point since some 70 percent of the customers would likely walk to the spa, while the rest would take either a cab or public transportation.
Although at least four board members seemed concerned about whether the building was sufficiently equipped in the event of a fire, Weston said sprinklers would be installed in the spa and there were two exits to street level.
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