LGBTQ-friendly gym is sued for alleged noise violations

Judge gavel and rainbow ribbon of LGBT pride on gray background.
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NovemFit, a gym in Fishtown that has a large percentage of LGBTQ+ members, is the subject of a lawsuit that claims its violating permissible noise and vibration limits.

The gym is located at 1732 N. Howard Street in the Fishtown section.

Brian R. Bissell, who owns a home next door to the gym, claims excessive noise, excessive vibrations and other disturbances from the gym render his home unlivable.

Bissell purchased his home in October 2023 for $305,501. He filed suit against the gym last month in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, seeking soundproofing and other measures from the gym.

In a related matter, Bissell is challenging the gym’s operation in an area of the building known as “Unit C.” That area is directly adjacent to Bissell’s property. A zoning hearing on Bissell’s challenge is tentatively set for 9:30 a.m. on July 16 via Zoom.

Joe Ling, owner of NovemFit, maintains he acted in good faith to accommodate Bissell. Ling provided PGN with multiple city reports and other documentation conveying the gym is operating in a legally permissible manner. Additionally, Ling has a petition with hundreds of signatures, in support of the gym’s continued existence.

“The facts are on our side,” Ling told PGN. “I feel confident that we have a strong case and if it goes to a trial, we’ll receive a favorable ruling.”

Arielle R. Gold, an attorney for Bissell, said her client isn’t out to close the gym but wants it to operate in a way that renders his home livable.

“My client contends Mr. Ling is violating city noise ordinances,” Gold told PGN. “My client has test results that can demonstrate that fact. Unfortunately, the city’s testing limitations are not able to provide adequate relief.”

Bissell filed suit as a last resort, Gold added.

“Mr. Ling indicated he has favorable test results showing the gym operates within Philadelphia’s noise limits, but has yet to provide them,” Gold continued.

Ling issued this statement regarding the controversy:

“In 13 years as a small business in Fishtown and seven at our current location of 1732 N. Howard Street, NovemFit has welcomed hundreds of members and facilitated close positive relationships with our neighbors on the block. This includes the former next-door [homeowner] of 15 years and the shared apartment above our condominium Unit C, in which we have had no complaints for noise or vibration violations. When speaking with the neighbors on Howard Street and Waterloo Street, there is overwhelming agreement that NovemFit has been a positive presence in the midst of booming construction and a steady presence in the face of gentrification and shifting culture. In fact, folks who flock to the urban area of Fishtown love the walkability of the neighborhood and [the] ability to patronize local businesses by foot amongst residences.

“In October 2023 we were approached by [Bissell], with noise and vibration complaints. After a series of communications and copious testing, in February the City of Philadelphia concluded that there were no violations to record. Metering came back with no results on the first round of tests, and personal tests of noise and vibrations inside the gym by [me] found levels far below the limits imposed by the City. All of [this] is formally documented.

“In addition to all tests being passed with flying colors, as a measure of good faith and to foster a positive relationship, extra layers of padding underneath where barbells land were installed, and even lowering music volume and bass thresholds for Unit C (the unit closest to Mr. Bissell) was enforced — and we required lifters to prop barbells up on 10-inch soft boxes on top of the already extra padded platforms in order to decrease vibrations. Classes begin on the Unit C side each morning at the earliest of 6 a.m., and no barbells are used on that side of the gym. It has always been a priority to be respectful of our neighbors at early or late hours, and this has not changed.

“In consideration to zoning questions, the 2013 zoning variance for 1732 N. Howard St. had been granted for the entire building (including both Units B and C), and [recently] updating the usage permit to include Unit C was ‘as usage by right.’ The City was able to take the administrative steps to update the zoning permit without delay or hearing.

“All requested cooperation and precautions have been taken to heart and implemented, as we are invested in our relationship with the community — even outside of our members. NovemFit is a safe space for those looking to better themselves through strength and conditioning, and we often have infants, gym doggies, and children who frequent the gym without issue. We hope to continue to be a positive space on Howard Street for years to come.”

Gold issued this statement: “When Brian Bissell, a 34-year-old software engineer, bought his first home on Howard Street, he knew that the home was located next to a gym. However, he assumed the gym would comply with local noise ordinances in place to protect homeowners like himself. He was wrong and NovemFit exceeds Philadelphia’s allowable decibel limits multiple times a day. Brian also did not realize that the gym followed a CrossFit training modality, which far exceeds the noise levels that any standard gym might produce because it encourages participants to raise heavy weights above their head and allow them to go crashing to the floor. Nor did he realize that the gym next door conducted classes right next to their shared wall, conducted classes on the sidewalk in front of the gym, conducted classes with its garage doors wide open, and lacked the insulation and padding necessary to prevent its excessive noise and vibrations from permeating their shared wall. The noise created by NovemFit additionally has a negative impact on other surrounding neighbors who have signed a petition voicing the same concerns. After many attempts to resolve the noise and vibration issues, Brian asked Mr. Ling to come to his house during one of NovemFit’s classes to experience the extent of the problem. But Mr. Ling was uncooperative in all efforts. It is impossible for Mr. Ling to understand or remedy the impact his business operations are having on Brian’s life and home if he refuses to recognize that impact. When Mr. Ling failed to take any meaningful steps to remedy the noise and vibrations emitted from his gym and instead continued to profit at the expense of his neighbor, Brian was left with no choice other than to institute litigation. The primary purpose of the litigation is to persuade Mr. Ling to install appropriate padding and insulation to prevent the transmission of sound and vibrations through Brian’s home in an amount in excess of Philadelphia noise ordinances. Brian also appealed the recent issuance of a Zoning Permit which allows NovemFit to conduct workout classes right next to their shared wall. Brian appreciates that NovemFit provides a safe space for many members of the LGBTQ community and is not seeking to take that away through the closure of NovemFit. He is simply requesting that NovemFit make reasonable modifications to bring auditory emissions down to legal limits so that Brian’s home can be a safe and stable environment in which he can work, sleep and live.”

Bissell issued this statement: “For the past 17 years, Philadelphia is the home I’ve chosen and the home I love. I’m no stranger to the noise associated with city living and for years have lived in busy sections of the city without complaint. When I first bought my home on Howard Street, I was ecstatic to finally own a home in my city. My excitement quickly turned into dismay, as after my first night sleeping in my new home, I was awoken at 5:30 a.m. by intense vibrations that rattled my whole house while loud music poured through the wall I share with NovemFit. Since then, I have been awoken almost every single morning between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. I’m effectively unable to sleep or live in my own home. My doctor has diagnosed me with noise-induced tinnitus due to the prolonged, repeated exposure to loud, sudden impact sounds and insists that I leave my house or wear ear plugs during workouts, otherwise I am risking permanent hearing damage that is irreversible. The chronic sleep deprivation, combined with my house constantly and unpredictably shaking — sometimes to such a degree that I can hear plaster falling within my walls — has resulted in severe stress, anxiety, and depression. Being that I work from home, this also has hindered my ability to perform my full-time job and run my local small business. Never in my life did I think I would ever have to sue a neighbor. I honestly still can’t believe all of this is happening, I can’t afford to move anywhere else and I feel completely trapped. All I want is to be able to sleep and live in my home, but the gym next-door has made that impossible.”

Gym member Kris Pepper, 34, expressed concern for the gym’s future.

“I love that we have this space where anyone can come and feel comfortable working out,” Pepper said in an email. “NovemFit has been a pillar of the community for many years, and it’s scary to think that someone can just move in and put that all in jeopardy.”

Pepper added: “I know the neighbor’s attorney said their intention is not to shut the gym down. But I think it’s important to consider that small gyms like this typically don’t make a ton of money. So curtailing hours, shrinking the space, or requiring expensive work be done to the building really does pose an existential threat to the space. All [of] that is in addition to whatever legal bills the owner has to deal with already.”

As of presstime, a trial date hadn’t been set for Bissell’s lawsuit.

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