Back in the 1970s, city officials looking to crack down the proliferation of illegal massage parlors came up with regulations that slapped “physical culture” establishments with lots of hoops and costly regulations.
“The city didn’t really have a lot of gyms and health facilities,” Dylan Sandler of the Department of City Planning told the Queens Borough Board on Monday.
Then, somewhere over the past few decades, gyms, martial arts schools, rock-climbing businesses and other legitimate physical establishments became welcome and vital to neighborhoods, along with an ever-diversifying field of legal therapeutic massage services.
“You had the YMCA,” Sandler said. “But things have evolved since the permits were created. Things have changed in 40 years. We’re looking to cut red tape for health and fitness businesses, gyms, spas ... Massage therapy is now done by health professionals licensed by the state’s Education Department.”
The city is proposing a zoning change to eliminate required permit renewals every five years and shorten or eliminate a lot of the waiting in the permitting process, which Sandler said can be expensive for someone who is just looking to start a business.
“Right now [during the process] you need to rent a space that you can’t use as you go through the process,” he said. “It can cost $30,000 to $50,000.” Unlicensed massage parlors, he added, will remain illegal.
The Borough Board is expected to vote next month on the proposal, along with two others presented Monday night.
One is a planned expansion of the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health, or FRESH, program, which offers incentives for grocery stores to locate in underserved areas. Queens has two designated FRESH zones, one in Community District 1 in Astoria and the other in Community District 12 in and around Jamaica.
The proposed changes would include additional areas in CD 1 and CD 12, and add areas in CD 3 in the Corona-Jackson Heights-East Elmhurst areas; CD 4 near Elmhurst; and CD 14 in the Rockaways.
“This will allow more access to fresh food and supermarkets,” said Jackie Sunwoo of the Department of Planning.
Businesses agreeing to bring supermarkets to those regions would get relief from some regulations governing things like building height, minimum numbers of parking spaces, floor and window square footage and even building height.
The board also heard from the city on Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to revamp the approval process for new hotels.
While the administration said the plan will make regulations more uniform across the city and help an industry that was slammed by the Covid epidemic, some critics say it could block construction of new hotels and cost the city billions of dollars. Others consider it a handout to the Hotel Trades Council, the only union to support de Blasio’s ill-fated presidential campaign in 2020.