Score one for the Townhomes of Riverside Homeowners Association. The HOA was the temporary winner of a long-simmering feud with a noisy neighborhood gym.
The outcome? Special Magistrate Thomas J. Ansbro on July 3 ordered Challenge Fitness to pay a $500 fine and $150 costs after a contentious hours-long hearing at City Hall over code violations. The issue of noise violations has been ongoing for more than a year due to numerous case delays.
The issue? Nearby homeowners complained that the gym’s loudspeaker system was so intrusive it affected their daily living. The gym leases its property from the Pride Center at Equality Park, which has also sparred with the same HOA over drainage issues, lighting issues, and parking and code enforcement issues.
The hearing about noise complaints at the gym at 2036 N. Dixie Highway was confrontational from the start.
Challenge Fitness attorney Paula J. Campione had filed an emergency motion to delay the July 3 hearing because an earlier noise complaint was still on appeal and had not yet been resolved. That case involved a $250 fine. Ansbro refused to grant the delay.
At one point during the hearing, Campione accused Ansbro of holding a “kangaroo court” and described a complaint from a homeowner as evidence of “practicing law without a license.”
An irritated Ansbro called the gym’s attorney “nasty” and “disrespectful” and threatened to remove her from the case because of comments she made during her presentation.
At another juncture, Campione asked Ansbro why he didn’t take into account numerous documents she had submitted earlier that day for consideration. Ansbro told her he had received them only hours earlier and the file was too “voluminous” for proper review.
“That would not be tolerated by a court and it’s not going to be tolerated by me despite the fact you may think I run a kangaroo code court,” he said, referring to comments Campione made in pleadings. “You are extremely disrespectful and not a service to your client, quite a disservice to your client to be nasty. It doesn’t work here and it won’t work in Circuit Court. You might need to go back and take some training on what it takes to do some legal work.”
As the hearing proceeded, the barbs continued.
Campione subsequently argued that Ansbro was “unduly biased” and “un-neutral” and should not be handling the case. Ansbro disagreed.
Campione requested an inspection of the gym’s premises. She told Ansbro the gym had made several improvements over the past year, including installing air conditioning in September 2018, and is in the process of replacing a metal rolling door with an enclosed concrete wall to help curb noise in an effort to be a good neighbor.
Ansbro repeatedly noted that the July 3 hearing focused only on a noise complaint stemming from an April 4, 2019 incident, and told Campione that anything else she presented was irrelevant.
“We’re here on a case to determine whether a violation was committed on a certain date. A motion to inspect the premises, which has nothing to do with the case before me has no relevance. Denied,” Ansbro told Campione.
During his testimony, Townhomes of Riverside Homeowners Association President Matt Dreger recalled how he and other residents in his neighborhood could “hear the instructor at the gym inside our homes and on our front porches,” as well as at the pool and waterfront.
“I have no particular bad feelings toward the gym. We just don’t want to hear them,” Dreger told Ansbro. “If someone just grabbed the volume and turned it down, this would all go away.”
Campione requested Ansbro use noise from the nearby railroad tracks as a baseline, which he promptly declined.
“He is talking about the noise generated from this property. That’s why I’m here, that’s why everybody is here,” Ansbro said.
An irritated Campione asked Ansbro at one point, “I’m sorry magistrate. Do you represent the city now?”
When Ansbro said he didn’t, she replied, “Sure seems like it.”
Ansbro shot back, “I’m going to disallow you to represent these people if you don’t stop the snark. You understand me, do you?”
Ansbro called Campione “disrespectful” and Campione told Ansbro he was supposed to be “unbiased.”
After Dreger told Ansbro that Challenge Fitness had turned down the volume “insufficiently.” Campione then accused Dreger of “purposely filing complaints against the Pride Center for ulterior motives.”
At one point, Campione’s co-counsel referred to Dreger as “hyper-sensitive.”
Ansbro said he didn’t think Dreger’s complaints about the gym were unreasonable.
“My intent is to get compliance. That’s all we want to do,” Ansbro said.
After imposing the $500 fine, he added, “I want to make it clear: I don’t want to see this back here.”