ROSELLE PARK — Early last week the borough shut down a fitness business that has been operating since November in direct violation of zoning laws.
After residents complained for more than ten months about the owner of Easy Fitness with Jeannie on West Clay Avenue operating a business that directly violated the law and the borough issuing multiple summonses that did little to change the situation, the business was shut down.
According to information obtained by LocalSource, on Sept. 23 Construction Official Jessie Atwell, accompanied by police, went to the establishment and informed the owner, Regina Mendes Doman, she was in violation of zoning laws and he was shutting down the establishment immediately.
The owner was informed she could not operate the business until appearing before the Roselle Park Municipal Land Use Board for a complete review of her application, which originally was submitted for a completely different type of business, according to reports.
According to one resident it took a new construction official coming aboard to bring an end to the situation that had residents wondering if anything would ever be done about the business that was supposed to be offering health and nutrition counseling services, not Zumba lessons.
Documents obtained by LocalSource showed that on Aug. 12 Atwell sent a letter to Doman after inspecting the business. He informed Doman that after this inspection and reviewing the documents she submitted last year in order to obtain a waiver, she was in violation of the law.
“I have concluded that the use of the premises is a gym and not health and nutritional counseling,” he said in the letter, adding that it was his opinion as construction official that information contained in her waiver application “was misrepresented or made in error.”
Atwell asked Doman to forward any and all documents she had that would establish the use is not a gym but actually a health and nutritional counseling center.
“If I do not hear from you or receive any documents, I will presume that you have no desire to resolve this matter and I will be forced to recall the previously issued Certificate of Occupancy,” the construction official said in his letter to Doman.
Residents said Doman retaliated by writing on her easy Fitness with Jeannie website that there was “a personal vendetta” against her by the borough and there was political influence to shut her business down.
She also said that Atwell threatened to slap her with a $2,000 fine if she did not immediately comply with his order.
It did not take long for residents living near 293 West Clay Ave. to discover the business actually was a fitness center operating seven days a week and playing loud music for patrons taking Zumba lessons. That happened immediately. Initially residents thought the borough would step in and require the business owner to comply with the zoning law, but that proved futile.
So, week after week, month after month, residents living in the vicinity of the center had to live with the noise, traffic and parking problems resulting from the influx of patrons that flocked to the business that was operating in violation of the law.
“They blasted the music so loud you can’t enjoy a quiet, relaxing evening or weekend in your own home,” said one resident, while another complained that patrons were taking up so many parking spaces it was difficult for members of their own family to find a space close to their home.
“Try lugging groceries from a half block away, if you are lucky to get a space at all,” said another who confessed she was in her 80’s.
In April LocalSource obtained documents that clearly showed that from the start Doman never indicated she would be operating a fitness center or gym. Her attorney, Robert Renaud of Palumbo and Renaud in Cranford, did send a letter Sept. 27, 2012 requesting a “Waiver of Site Plan Review” for a change in tenancy, noting that the business was an appropriate change of use.
However, it appears Rich Belluscio, the construction official in Cranford that was contracted by the municipality to provide construction official duties, did not check into the matter.
Borough Attorney Richard Huxford eventually contacted the business owner about the zoning violation Dec. 7, following up with additional letters Jan. 14 and Feb. 1
The letters are evidence the borough was well aware that Doman was in violation of the waiver, which Huzford pointed out in his letters. In December Huxford ordered Doman to “cease and desist all fitness activities,” adding that if she continued with the classes and did not obtain a waiver or variance from the land use board, she would receive summons for violating zoning laws.
The business owner was also told she failed to obtain proper permitting for the sign she erected, which also could have subjected her to a summons. Yet Doman continued to operate her fitness business, failing to apply for the sign permit or address the issues concerning the zoning violation.
One resident said patrons continued to come to the business last week, but the doors were locked and only a small notification was posted on the door informing them that the center was shut down temporarily.
When LocalSource first reported on this issue in early April, residents were waiting for Doman to appear in municipal court later in the month, but they had a long wait.
That hearing and others were all delayed until June but the proceedings were moved into judge’s chambers so residents had no idea what took place or why the business owner went right back to operating the fitness business seven days a week.
Adding insult to injury was that the business owner brought in a chiropractor and massage therapist.
Mayor Joseph Accardi met with several frustrated residents in August and admitted “mistakes had been made” with this particular business owner. He told residents he would personally be looking into the situation in order to find a resolution to the problem.