by Wesley Ratko

Only one near neighbor turned out in protest against the relocation of the Balance fitness studio to its proposed new location at 12 West Willow Grove Avenue at Thursday night’s meeting of the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee. That protest, however, was largely silent.

Given an opportunity by the committee to voice his concerns, the man refused.

“I have quite a few [issues] but it would take up most of the evening,” he said.

The unidentified man, who gave his address as 15 West Willow Grove Avenue, which is directly across the street from the proposed new location, added that while there were “quite a few issues to discuss” he would do so when the variance goes before the Philadelphia Zoning Hearing Board, which ultimately controls granting variances.

In response, committee members Larry McEwen and co-chair Cynthia Brey told him his comments would be helpful and urged him to reconsider sharing his thoughts. He refused.

“There’s far too many to discuss about this whole procedure, the owner, and everything else about what the real intentions are here, and that’s something that I really can’t get into here now.”

Brey persisted, asking whether the man had received a notification letter from Balance owner Amy Carolla. He said he hadn’t received anything. However, when a copy was produced a moment later, he responded that he’d received a copy from a neighbor.

Carolla, accompanied by the business association’s retail recruiter, Eileen Reilly, said she and Reilly had gone door to door, up and down West Willow Grove Avenue, knocking on doors to introduce herself and collect signatures of support for the project. At homes where no one answered, she left the letter. Her petition was submitted to the committee for examination.

The owner of the property at 12 Wt Willow Grove Ave., Andrew Eisenstein, presented the proposed changes to the interior space of the building, the former site of the now-defunct Good Food Market.

Eisenstein said there were no plans to make any exterior changes to the building or add an addition onto the building. An existing two bedroom apartment at the rear of the property will be incorporated into the space and modified to serve as two small locker rooms with showers. The majority of the internal space would be the personal training area, which will feature weights and resistance bands, but no heavy equipment or machines typical in most gyms.

Balance is a personal training gym. Members come by appointment to work with a personal trainer or take a class.

Responding to a question from McEwen about the maximum number of users in the studio at any given time, Carolla said that three or four personal trainers each train one or two students per session. In addition to these, one or two small classes of up to 10 students each are held simultaneously. At most, there could be 27 people using the studio at one time.

Carolla said that their vision is of an intimate training environment.

“Our goal is not so much to try to increase the population there, we’re trying to increase the quality of our service,” Carolla said. “Right now we’re pretty tight in our space. It’s not functional for what we do. We’re bursting at the seams.”

Classes run Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., resume in the evening at 5:30 pm.., and continue until 8 p.m. There are no classes Friday night. Weekend classes are only held in the morning and begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Carolla told the committee that 50 percent of her clients live closer the proposed location on West Willow Grove Avenue than to the current location on Highland Avenue. She said 75 percent of her clients live within a mile of the studio. She added that Balance has a program that places a dollar in the accounts of members who walk or ride their bike to the studio as a way to encourage members to not take their cars. She said that she’s hoping to place a bike rack outside the building.

The proposed new facility has no operable windows – the studio is air conditioned. Eisenstein said Balance is trying to get away from some noise issues in the current location, related more to voices and vibrations than to loud music. He added that Balance’s current location is connected to residential space, which is not the case for the proposed new location. Carolla said she would do soundproofing as necessary.

Eisenstein presented the committee with photos of the street in front of the studio, which, according to him, were taken at 8 a.m. to show that while morning classes are ongoing there is plenty of street parking available. While no photos were presented of the street during the afternoon hours, Reilly noted that shops along the Avenue close at 5 p.m.; the first class begins at 5:30 p.m.

According to Eisenstein, the city’s zoning use refusal was due Carolla’s intention to offer physical therapy services. Otherwise, the use is by right.

Committee member Joyce Lenhardt said that Chestnut Hill spa 3000 B.C. was once located next door and was granted support for a variance by the CHCA for offering massage services.

The committee voted to approve a measure of support for the use variance,with the stipulation that Carolla provide evidence at the next DRC meeting that she contacted all directly adjacent neighbors, including those across the street.