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Variances approved for health club in former Lockport elementary school

LOCKPORT – The owner of Ultimate Physique won the variances he needed Tuesday to move his health club to the former Washington Hunt Elementary School.

Now it’s up to Lockport voters whether to approve the sale of the closed school in a May 20 referendum.

“We think most of the people in the community support it,” Ultimate Physique owner Robert Muscarella said after the six variances were approved.

The city Zoning Board of Appeals gave him permission to relocate his Ann Street business into the old school on Rogers Avenue, which he’s offering to buy for $65,000.

However, he said he will have to spend more than $1 million for asbestos remediation and interior demolition to make the two-story, 33,000-square-foot school into a business.

Several residents of the neighborhood around the school bitterly opposed the project because of nearly around-the-clock traffic, since the health club is to open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays. It will be open, although with shorter hours, on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, too. The only day it takes off is Christmas.

“You’re going to destroy my property values,” said Sean Downey of East Union Street. “You’re going to ruin me.”

“There’s very real concerns about quality of life,” said Anthony Turk of Rogers Avenue.

Four of the variances were unanimously approved, although Zoning Board member Allan W. Jack abstained because he works for the Lockport City School District, which is selling the property.

Muscarella plans to expand the building’s parking lot from 40 spaces to 94, but opponents saw it as evidence of plans for a booming business complex in a district zoned for single-family homes.

Actually, there would be four businesses. Timothy Arlington of Apex Contracting, speaking on the project design, said Ultimate Physique would have the entire first floor and part of the second. Other second-floor space would be occupied by a day care center, a children’s dance studio and a professional office.

R. Lynn Harper voted against the variances for the day care center and the dance studio because of concerns over sex offenders. She pointed out that day care centers and other places where children gather are protected by buffer zone laws, but the health club presumably won’t be screening its membership for sex offenders.

“I don’t know if you can get a state license for the day care center with the fitness center there,” Harper said.

Muscarella’s attorney, P. Andrew Vona, said the large parking lot is meant to avoid the need for on-street parking in the crowded neighborhood.

Washington Hunt’s playground will be maintained for use by children in the day care center, Arlington said. He said the neighborhood practice of residents parking overflow vehicles in the school parking lot will have to end.