Moe Baddourah

Moe Baddourah was against the prospect of a new massage parlor on North Beltline Boulevard.

A massage parlor that was looking for city permission to set up shop on North Beltline Boulevard canceled that bid on July 9.

Business owner and China native Yuzhen Zhu was looking to establish U-Relax Massage at 714 North Beltline Boulevard, which is near Columbia's tony Heathwood Neighborhood. She needed a special exception from the city's Board of Zoning Appeals to establish that type of business there. 

City records show that Zhu also owns a parlor called Asian U-Relax Massage on Main Street in Mauldin, an Upstate city in Greenville County. She reportedly has run that parlor since 2014.

However, the zoning request for a new parlor on North Beltline was withdrawn by Zhu on July 9. Some neighbors near the would-be shop — including District 3 City Councilman Moe Baddourah, who represents that sector of the city — had expressed concern about development.

There has been a proliferation of legal issues, sometimes involving prostitution, at massage parlors both nationally and in South Carolina in recent years.

An initial sweep of state court records does not indicate Zhu or the other massage parlor in Mauldin have ever had any legal issues. The business owner told The State on July 8 that she has never had any trouble with the police.

Baddourah acknowledges that he doesn't have any evidence there would be anything illegal about the would-be North Beltline massage parlor. 

Still, he says the national narrative surrounding massage parlors gave him pause.

"I think there is a big movement by the FBI to target massage parlors," Baddourah says. "For now, the location of that store just doesn't conform wth the [nearby] neighborhoods, and that was what neighbors were complaining about. I don't think we can make this kind of business illegal in the state of South Carolina, but I think we can control what location they go into."

The councilman says a chief concern of neighbors was that there are already a number of zoning exceptions in place near the North Beltline location. Those include several tattoo parlors on nearby Devine Street. There's also the Taboo adult store on Devine, which continues chugging along despite a yearslong legal battle with the city.

As noted by Baddourah, by withdrawing — rather than deferring — the zoning request, the massage parlor would have to start the bureaucratic process all over again if it changed its mind about seeking the special exception. 

"If they did it on a speed track it would be three months before it would be on the agenda again," the councilman said. "[Otherwise] it could be six months or nine months."

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