YMCA plan for Bethel Park fitness club mired in appeals

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh's plan to convert an ice rink in Bethel Park to a fitness center is wading through court appeals from a resident and two rival health clubs, but officials say that shouldn't delay a planned renovation.

Bethel Park resident Harry Chapman, Curves of Bethel Park and HealthTrax Fitness and Wellness are appealing the Bethel Park Zoning Hearing Board's decision to allow the YMCA to turn part of the Blade Runners building on Church Road into a fitness club. They argue the board improperly gave the Y a zoning variance to allow education, aerobics and weight lifting uses on a property that's doing fine as an ice rink.

“In order to grant a variance, the board purports to find that the property can't be used for anything else,” said Robert Xides Jr., the attorney representing the appellants. “It is being used for something else: it's an ice rink, a functioning ice rink.”

Bethel Park's zoning regulations require additional approvals for recreational uses in conservation districts such as the area where the rink is located. The zoning board granted those variances and conditional use approvals late last year.

Jim Lybarger, director of hockey operations for Blade Runners, said the ownership decided to sell the Bethel Park facility to the Y in 2012 “to focus their attention toward other real estate projects.”

“The ice rink was a unique piece of their portfolio and when the opportunity presented itself, they decided to sell,” Lybarger said.

Richard Perallo, YMCA vice president for facilities and construction, said the estimated $11.8 million project is in its fundraising stage, with construction planned to start in the spring of 2015. The YMCA has supported the Bethel Park zoning board in a court document, but Perallo declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The YMCA initially planned to convert the entire building to a fitness club, but agreed to keep one of the two rinks — named Apollo and Gemini — for youths, recreational and high school hockey teams.

The Y, which has contracted with Blade Runners to continue having the company's staff run the facility, started mechanical upgrades to the Apollo rink this month because fewer teams use it during the spring and summer, Perallo said.

“We are proceeding with the next season with two fully functioning sheets of ice,” said Jamie Colecchi, president of the South Hills Amateur Hockey Association, one of the rink's main users. “The permanent closure of one rink ... will mean earlier weekend start times than we currently have, and later ending times to our on-ice activities.”

He said SHAHA would rework its schedule to try to accommodate teams and families. Though the hockey pro shop closed when the Y purchased the building, Colecchi said, the remaining management team and the Y have been great partners to the association.

Once fundraising is done — and if the appeals go in the YMCA's favor — the renovated Apollo rink would remain open during the conversion of the Gemini side into a small gymnasium, instruction rooms for fitness classes and aerobics, an indoor pool, locker rooms and weightlifting facilities.

Xides argued in his appeal that legal advertising for the variance hearing wasn't done properly, because it never mentioned the YMCA was seeking a variance for indoor aerobics, weight lifting or educational uses.

Zoning board solicitor Irving Firman said in a court document that the appeal didn't meet a 30-day filing deadline following the zoning board's decision, and that the instruction rooms, aerobics area and weightlifting areas were secondary uses compared to the indoor pool and gym, and therefore didn't need to be spelled out in the notice.

The appeals only briefly mention HealthTrax officials' earlier argument that the YMCA, which operates as a tax-exempt nonprofit, would be getting an unfair advantage over for-profit fitness centers such as Curves and HealthTrax. Xides said potential competition from the YMCA gives the two clubs the standing to appeal.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at msantoni@tribweb.com.

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