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Town code questions prompt move of Snuggery

The Snuggery, a business that offers clients non-sexual snuggles and cuddles and drew national and international media coverage, is leaving the Penfield neighborhood where it opened earlier this year.

Neighbors had requested the Penfield Zoning Board of Appeals review and reverse the decision allowing the business to operate as a customary home occupation, a section in town code that regulates businesses that operate in homes.

The business is owned by University of Rochester graduate Jacqueline Samuel and was located on a dead-end road off Creek Street.

Samuel said she feels like she will be comfortable at her new site on Park Avenue because there isn’t anyone who is unhappy with it.

“We live in a very fearful, closed-minded society and people are really uncomfortable with touch,” Samuel said.

The request of several of her neighbors was included for consideration on the town Zoning Board of Appeals’ Nov. 19 agenda, but Samuel’s parents, who own the property, said they did not want to create problems in the neighborhood, said Supervisor Tony LaFountain.

Samuel’s attorney, David K. Hou, said the business would cease operations in Penfield, although he indicated his client was not in violation of town code and operated the Snuggery as a “legitimate, lawful business,” according to a Nov. 15 letter to the town.

Margaret Caines, who lives in the neighborhood, said she was pleased the business has moved. Samuel’s intentions may have been positive, but Caines said she and neighbors were concerned about the people coming to her business.

“It made us all very uncomfortable,” Caines said.

While the business might have met the criteria under the ordinance, the Snuggery was probably not an appropriate use in a residential neighborhood, LaFountain said.

“I think it’s something that raises a flag,” LaFountain said.

Samuel, according to her website, believes in the “healing power of touch” and its power to reduce stress, strengthen the body’s immune system and lower blood pressure.

The company website offered both single snuggles and double cuddles, from two so-called cuddlers (Samuel included). Prices ranged from $50 for a single 45-minute snuggle session to $180 for a 90-minute double cuddle session.

Samuel said no sexual contact is allowed and nudity is prohibited, although clients are urged to wear comfortable clothing or pajamas, if they prefer.

LaFountain said he understands the service offered is an alternative method of stress relief and ground rules are in place, but part of the concern is the “fine line between snuggling and what happens next.”

“You still have that concern over how far it goes,” LaFountain said.

Samuel reiterated there was no sexual contact at the business while in Penfield. Hou said the business and Samuel have not been the target of any law enforcement activity, according to the attorney’s letter.

Samuel said she had between 10 and 15 clients a week, and expects her business to grow now that has hired an extra employee and moved to a new location.

The customary home occupation is defined in part as a business operated by a resident within a dwelling unit, but insurance agencies, accountant and, hair-cutting are some examples of the uses that would be allowed. Manufacturing, repairs, wholesale and retail sales are among the uses that are prohibited.

The statute allows for someone to have a customary home occupation without coming in for approval provided the owner lives at the location, said Zoning Board Chairman Daniel DeLaus.

“That’s just the way the code is written,” DeLaus said.

The board, because of the Snuggery’s decision to move, did not act on the residents’ request.

Caines is urging the town to tighten up the code. “Customary” leads one to believe the business is typical, Caines said, and by most accounts the Snuggery is not typical.

“I don’t think the current policy — ‘It’s OK unless somebody complains’ — is an appropriate way to protect the residents,” Caines said.

The town is in the middle of a general code update, and the concerns will be addressed as part of that process, LaFountain said.

“We certainly will take her request under review and advisement,” LaFountain said.