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Health club drops YMCA lawsuit

| Saturday, Jan. 3, 2004

A Marshall health club has dropped its lawsuit over construction of a YMCA in Franklin Park.

Because borough officials invited the charity to build a branch there, Windwood Health and Sports Club likely could not have blocked the project even if it had won its unfair competition suit, said the club's lawyer, Fred Greenberg.

Greenberg also represents the Seven Fields-based Fitness Factory, which is trying to stop the Butler County Family YMCA from building a new facility in Cranberry. Greenberg contends the YMCA has a competitive advantage because it is tax-exempt but offers the same fitness facilities as private gyms.

Greenberg said Windwood officials still are considering legal action against the YMCA, but are unsure what that would be.

The Franklin Park case differs from Cranberry because township officials did not invite the charity to open a branch there.

"(Franklin Park officials) helped the YMCA by giving them a loophole you could drive a truck through," Greenberg said.

Franklin Park Council President Michael Smith said officials were not trying to create a loophole, but rather to find a way to build a pool for the borough's residents at no cost to taxpayers.

"We approached the YMCA on this endeavor. We heard they were looking to build a new facility," Smith said. "Our residents had said in a parks survey they wanted a pool and this seemed like a way to provide that for them."

In a similar case Greenberg is handling in Hanover, York County, an arbitrator ruled that South Hanover Y was not in violation of the state's "purely public charity" act. Greenberg, a Philadelphia-based attorney, said the York County ruling is being appealed.

"I think every time a judge or arbitrator sees the facts in these cases, the YMCA will prevail," said Larry Lutz, who is defending the Butler County Family YMCA. "When the facts come out about what YMCAs do, it's very clear they are doing the same thing they have always done."

YMCA officials are moving ahead with plans to build the Cranberry YMCA, said Larry Garvin, president and CEO of the Butler County Family YMCA. The charity has raised $880,000 for the first phase of construction, which officials estimate will cost $1.4 million, Garvin said.

The construction schedule has been pushed back slightly from a spring start to a summer start, "if everything falls into place," Garvin said.

Butler County Common Pleas Judge George Hancher is scheduled to hear the case between the Fitness Factory and the Butler County Family YMCA. Lutz said the case could be heard in the spring.

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