Some Westerville residents are concerned that an "Asian spa" is advertising for illicit services before its opening.
Early this year, Orchid Asian Spa began advertising its intention to open at 535 S. Otterbein Ave. in the Westerville Square Shopping Center.
But concerns have grown because the establishment hasn't just been using flyers or social media such as Facebook. Multiple advertisements have appeared on websites such as BackPage or Craigslist that featured risque photographs of women and such phrases as "free shower."
Westerville police Chief Joe Morbitzer said BackPage is "one of many" blogs and other forums where illegal acts are advertised or discussed.
"(BackPage) is one avenue that (criminals) use," he said. "I don't know if it's worse or if there's a percentage, but there are numerous places they use."
Those advertisements have spread through social media and so have resident concerns.
Multiple posts on the city's official Facebook page under "Community" outline residents' concerns with the establishment. The city received so many comments that the staff drafted an official response to concerns, noting they are "aware of the business advertising to open in Westerville Square."
Among the Facebook posts, including some on Councilwoman Kathy Cocuzzi's page, residents expressed concern that the advertisements conjure images of prostitution and human trafficking, and some said they are concerned about its proximity to homes and schools, such as Westerville South High School which is blocks away.
Some indicated their intention to attend the 6:30 p.m. Feb. 6 city council meeting to comment.
Christa Dickey, the city's spokeswoman, said the city is "very aware" of the issue but emphasized that Orchid Asian Spa has yet to open.
"They have applied to operate as a spa, which is a permitted use in that district, per the zoning code," she said. "They have received two permits from the city – one building permit to (make) interior alterations and one (for) plumbing."
On those permits, Crystal Asian Spa is listed as the tenant for the building, with Yan Chang signing the city documents.
Crystal Asian Spa is a massage parlor at 1351 W. Lane Ave. in Columbus affiliated with the company Crystal Asian Spa LLC. The Lane Avenue location also advertised its 2016 opening on BackPage and other sites.
According to Columbus police records, no police reports have involved activity at that location since 2016.
Attempts to reach Chang were unsuccessful, as no number was provided on the city documents. Although a telephone number is listed on the door, calls go unanswered, eventually ending with a statement that the voicemail has not been set up. Employees who answered calls to the Lane Avenue location were unable to help.
Before Orchid Asian Spa would be able to open, city representatives would need to complete an inspection of the building, and Dickey said any signs of a business operating outside its zoning designation would mean it would not be permitted to open.
"Right now, they can do the work they're permitted to do ... and then there would be an inspection that would take place, which is part of the normal process," she said.
Dickey said the city is "aware" of the advertising, but can't take much action "just (because of) the fact that the business isn't open yet."
"That advertising is not consistent with how they applied to operate," she said. "Our code enforcement division has a process; our police and law enforcement has a process. We will enforce activity to be sure that any business – including this business – is operating how they're permitted to operate."
Similarly, Morbitzer said his department is aware of the advertising, and is working through its typical processes. When it comes to worried residents, Morbitzer said he hears them.
"We monitor all the social-media pages," he said. "We understand and appreciate (residents') concern."