Winter Park looks to expand state's restriction on massage parlor hours

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WINTER PARK, Fla. - Right now there aren't restrictions as to the hours massage therapists can operate. But that's all changing across Florida in an effort to clamp down on the unsavory side to the industry.

At 33 Spa on Lee Road, the sign says "Open" but the door is locked and the shades are drawn.

Channel 9 learned that 33 Spa is still licensed to operate after workers were arrested for prostitution in March.

Last year, Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation agents raided five licensed businesses in Winter Park, where employees were accused of giving customers more than a massage. Seven prostitution arrests were made.

State lawmakers just passed a bill that forces all businesses offering massage therapy to close from midnight to 5 a.m.

Winter Park wants to take it one step further and close the businesses from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.

A sign on the building at 33 Spa says they are closed at 11 p.m. Residents who live just beyond a fence along the property said they've seen people going in at all hours of the night.

"You see operations there 24 hours a day," said Winter Park resident Curtis Fischer.

Aside from prostitution, officials said parlors can be a cover for human trafficking.

Victims' advocates said changes to laws and ordinances will help.

"Limiting the hours is proactive. It's bringing awareness to the community," said Tomas Lares of the organization Florida Abolitionists.
 
But Barbara Nelen, a legitimate licensed therapist, fears Winter Park's limited hours could hurt businesses like hers.

"I really don't want to be limited how I serve my community," said Nelen.

Winter Park's Planning and Zoning Board will have a public hearing on Tuesday to take up the issue.
 
If the city's proposal is passed by commissioners, the changes would take effect right away.