College Park pastor Barry Wood did a double take recently when he saw a local newspaper photograph of two men and two women sitting together in a big, steamy bath.
"It was four people who seemed to be without clothing," said Wood, 31, pastor of the New Covenant Christian Community Church. "And, of course, that certainly got my attention."
When he read the newspaper further, Wood didn't like what he found out. The owners of Making Waves, a downtown Washington hot-tub emporium, were preparing to build a branch in College Park, a Prince George's community of 26,000 that includes the University of Maryland campus.
Wood decided that such a place "promotes lust and sexual immorality" and began to fight it. He encouraged letters from 11 other ministers asking the city council to object to the spa, and he organized protests at City Council meetings. Council members, who will consider the request tonight, say the spa is permitted under present zoning.
Nevertheless, the fight has provoked dismay among the owners and city officials who say they do not understand what the fuss is all about.
"I'm amazed at how this moral majority thing has taken hold," said Eric Rudd, a sculptor and one of the five co-owners of the spa. Rudd was one of the owners pictured -- with bathing suit, he says.
Rudd, along with gallery owner Chris Mittendorf, accountant Cal Klausner, lawyer Matthew Bogin and builder Anthony Rudder, opened the first spa in September of last year at 7th and D streets NW because "we're all in our 30s and thinking about our bodies -- which ache," Rudd said.
The spa's 15 tubs range from those big enough for two adults to a "party tub" big enough for 12, and rent for $9 per person per hour. According to Rudd, 30,000 people have visited the downtown spa since it opened.
"My son had his 8th-year birthday party there," said Rudd, who complained that the minister has "made it sound like it is going to be a den for homosexuality and motorcycle gangs."
Although they do not permit drugs and alcohol, Rudd said, the owners do not intend to police what goes on in the hot tub rooms, which can be locked for privacy. "It's not my job to enforce their morality," he said. "If that's the big concern -- sex -- look at the motels up and down Route 1."
Rudd added that the new establishment, which he said will open in three months, requires a $250,000 investment and will renovate a vacant car showroom, upgrading that part of a commercial strip.
Wood, who holds services at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, said he began his antitub effort a month ago chiefly because of the "sexual characterization" of the establishment's advertising, its emphasis on "total privacy" and the proximity of the site to the university.
Students are "sexually active anyway, unfortunately, and this is just another place," he said. "They have a one-inch foam pad, they can dim the lights, pipe in music and for an hour do whatever they want."
Wood said he has never been to the downtown spa, but he sent a male church member to investigate. He has been joined in his objections by state Del. Thomas Mooney who said it "presents the occasion for sin" and is bad for the county's reputation.
The most City Council members plan to do is recommend that the county require a yearly licensing review.. "I think we're maybe being a little quick to judge," said College Park Mayor Alvin Kushner.