As Willie Iverson sat in the living room of his West Akron apartment on a recent evening, the sound of fast-paced, heavy-metal music pumped through the ceiling from the gymnasium below, loud enough that the words were clear.
Next were the thumps of heavy weights being dropped. Thump. Thump. Thump.
This was followed by what sounded like cables being pulled through the floorboards, and a man yelling, “Yeah! Yeah!”
“Every day — all day long,” said Iverson, 74, shaking his head at the noise coming from the CrossFit Akron gymnasium below his apartment. “You want to have peace and quiet. You don’t want to listen to that. It’s so frustrating.”
Iverson is among the residents at the Village at New Seasons, a combined senior apartment and retail building on South Hawkins Avenue, who have been battling for more than a year to mute the sound coming from CrossFit, one of the commercial tenants on the first floor of the building that has apartments above it. The residents circulated a petition in February 2013, sent letters to the companies that own the apartments and commercial space, called the police, and contacted the Fair Housing Advocates Association.
Vincent Curry, executive director of the housing association, has been advocating on behalf of the residents and says they could — if necessary — file a complaint based on the noise negatively impacting their health, including disturbing their sleep and raising their blood pressure. He said what makes the situation complex is how East Akron Neighborhood Development Corp. (EANDC) owns the apartments while Testa Enterprises Inc. and House of the Lord jointly own the commercial space. This means when residents complain to their landlord — EANDC — this agency has no control over the actions of the gymnasium, which is leasing space from Testa Enterprises and House of the Lord.
“Something needs to be done,” Curry said. “This is not a figment of the imagination.”
Paul Testa, who heads Testa Enterprises, said his company has taken steps to address the residents’ concerns and is working with CrossFit on other improvements, especially to muffle the sound of weights being dropped.
“It hasn’t solved all of the issues,” Testa said of the improvements made so far. “It’s a tough situation.”
Both the residents and Curry are frustrated that it has taken this long to address the noise issue and that months of time will pass before they hear any updates.
“If residents create disturbances to a commercial property, there would be a move to get the residents out,” Curry said.
The Village at New Seasons, located at 1485 S. Hawkins, opened in July 2012 where an old retail shopping strip once stood. The top three floors contain 50 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments for low- and moderate-income residents 55 and older. The commercial strip on the first floor includes a medical center operated by Summa Health System, a barber shop, beauty shop and CrossFit. The building was hailed at its opening as a way to breathe new life into this area, while providing needed senior housing and health-care services.
The apartment’s residents, who have had a few other, more minor complaints since the facility opened, say it was a great place to live until CrossFit moved into its space in November 2012. The gym, known for its high-energy workouts that include lifting and dropping weights, turning over huge tires and climbing ropes suspended from the ceiling, is open from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Carolyn Iverson, 65, Willie’s wife, said she often wakes up, startled by the noise in the early morning hours with an instant headache, and is unable to go back to sleep. She said the sound is so loud that it at times makes the floor vibrate and knocks askew the many framed photos hanging in the living room of their five children, 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
“I’m sick of it,” she said.
Willie Iverson first turned to the police for help, making 10 loud noise complaints between November 2012 and August 2013. Officers told him there was nothing they could do because the noise wasn’t outside of the building and suggested Iverson complain to his landlord.
Iverson wrote numerous letters to EANDC, Testa Enterprises and anyone else he could think of, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, whose office staff said they couldn’t help. Iverson and Robert Lyons, who heads a tenant association in the building, circulated a petition in February 2013 that 39 of the 50 residents signed, seeking relief from the noise problem. They gave the petition to EANDC and Testa Enterprises.
Lyons said 12 residents can hear the music and yelling coming from the gymnasium in their apartments while the rest can hear the dropping of the weights, which also is audible in the building’s lobby. He likened it to the sound of thunder.
“It’s ridiculous for a senior citizen building to have that noise,” said Lyons, 58, who has lived in the building for two years.
Response to complaints
The residents’ efforts prompted several meetings between all of the interested parties and two sound tests by experts hired by EANDC and Testa Enterprises who made similar recommendations for improvements, some that have been done and others that haven’t.
Grady Appleton, executive director of EANDC, said his agency’s expert recommended that CrossFit move its speakers at least 3 feet from the wall, remove its subwoofers, and have designated lift stations. At these stations, the floor would be cut out and lined with rubber material to deaden the sound of the weights hitting it.
Appleton said he hopes Testa Enterprises and CrossFit can “come to a conclusion soon, so this problem can be resolved.”
Pastor Herman Matherson of House of the Lord said he is aware of the residents’ concerns and is “saddened that it has taken this long.”
“They have tried to do a number of things to make it better, but it has not resulted in giving the residents the relief they wanted,” he said.
Testa and his companies have been involved with this project from the outset, with Testa Builders Inc. constructing the building, Testa Enterprises owns the commercial space with the church, and Testa Commercial Real Estate Group handles the commercial leasing.
Paul Testa said he is “trying as the management side and as the owner to figure out how to fix the problem and to satisfy the tenant [CrossFit]” and to do this in a “fair and equitable way.”
Testa said steps were taken during the construction of the 7,000-square-foot space CrossFit occupies to try to muffle the sound, including insulating between the floors and spraying insulation in the ceiling above the gymnasium.
“We didn’t expect that level of noise,” he said. “Who knew?”
Joe Parsons, Testa Real Estate Group’s attorney, said CrossFit’s lease says it “cannot create a nuisance to other tenants of the building.”
Testa said none of the other commercial tenants in the building have complained about noise from CrossFit.
To address the residents’ concerns, Testa said he had a sound analysis done, had the concrete cut away from the steel in the gymnasium so that it didn’t vibrate, and asked CrossFit to add mats, move its speakers and remove its subwoofers.
He said both he and CrossFit hired experts to look at options for creating a station where weights can be dropped. He said they will soon get together to discuss the best course, with Testa picking up the cost of any improvements.
“They run a good business there,” Parsons said. “We believe them to be reputable business owners. They have a solid membership. The gym is getting used. We want the business to be successful and have done what the engineers suggested.”
Ben Klingeman, who runs the CrossFit Akron gym, which has a 10-year lease for the space, said rubber mats and “noise-canceling foam” in the gymnasium help condense the sound. He said a resident only complained once to him about noise.
“We try to be nice and polite,” he said.
In terms of other potential improvements, Klingeman said, “We are always here to help out, if there is just cause.” He said additional improvements could be pricey.
“We’ll see where it goes,” he said.
Residents are hoping the needed improvements come soon, especially because they say the sound gets louder in the summer when CrossFit members work out both inside and out.
“We did everything we can,” said Willie Iverson, who retired after 33 years with General Motors in Lordstown. “They don’t live here. I bet if they lived here or if their mother stayed here, they would be doing something.”