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Hollywood wants Asian themed mural removed

Nobody argues the four graceful geishas on the mural outside All Asian Massage are ugly.

Members of a city review board went so far as to call the mural a work of art.

But under city rules, the $10,000 painted wall that owner Rui Nancy Zheng commissioned for her massage parlor at Sheridan Street and State Road 7 is a blight on the landscape.

Zheng calls it art; the city says it doesn't belong near a residential neighborhood.

"All I was trying to do was have a beautiful building," Zheng said outside her shop Tuesday. "There are weeds in the neighborhood, and I planted a flower. I don't know what I did wrong. I am sorry."

On Thursday a city magistrate is expected to levy a $150-per-day fine until the mural depicting an ancient Chinese fable is removed.

For three years Zheng worked as a masseuse for other people. In March, she was able to open her own shop in a one-story house-turned-parlor facing busy Sheridan Street. Abutting a residential neighborhood, it is also less than two blocks from a stretch of State Road 7 the city has spent lots of money to improve, without visible success.

Zheng said she wanted her business to stand apart from parlors that have a bad reputation as fronts for prostitution.

"She wants to take the word 'sex' out of these theraputic massage places," said Bruce Remillard, a client and friend who is helping Zheng with her plight. "She didn't want to be one of those seedy, dark and dingy places you find at the corner of a strip mall.

"She is a professional and wanted her place to reflect that," Remillard said.

After obtaining permits, Zheng spent about $150,000 on building renovations and improvements. She gutted the insides, put on a new roof, hung new windows and installed stucco and landscaping.

All the work passed muster with the city, even a large, red-and-white sign that proclaims "All Asian Massage" with bright lights.

She hired Mark Vose, a noted Broward muralist whose work adorns the city's band shell on the beach.

But Zheng didn't get a permit for the mural, and a code enforcement officer cited her.

"I didn't know you needed a permit for art," she said.

In May, a city magistrate ordered Zheng to obtain approval for the mural from the city's development review board, or face heavy fines. By a vote of 4-3, the board rejected the mural on Sept. 2.

At the board meeting, city staffers argued that Zheng simply picked the wrong place to display the mural. Her building abuts the corner of a residential neighborhood.

Buildings along the Sheridan corridor like Zheng's are allowed to be used as businesses, but they must follow zoning codes aimed at keeping them compatible with the adjacent homes, said Julie Krolack, a city planner.

"I don't want to argue whether it is nice or not," Krolack told the board, adding that none of the neighbors have complained. "But when you look at the zoning of the area, the mural shouldn't be there."

Chairman Cliff Germano, who voted to keep the mural, noted a KFC restaurant is less than a block away. He said he found it inconsistent that the city allows a large lighted sign in front of Zheng's building, but not the mural.

"Everyone that drives along Sheridan knows it's commercial, and everyone realizes that those houses are commercially owned," he said.

Germano was outnumbered by board members who said the mural, while arguably art, is also business signage that needs government scrutiny.

"As beautiful as it is, to me it was just additional signage," said member John Passalacqua. "It was designed to further the Asian theme of an Asian massage parlor, not as stand-alone art."

Zheng hasn't decided if she will try to appeal to city commissioners, saying she doesn't want any more problems. But she is bothered by the idea of having to paint over her geishas.

"It's not the right thing to do," said Zheng. "You can't paint over art. It feels wrong."