A years-long noise dispute between neighbors and a nearby fitness studio has grown into a crescendo and now the village of Oak Park is poised with an infelicitous dilemma – appeasing neighbors at the expense of the business community or appeasing a local business at the expense of the neighbors.
Ever since kid-friendly exercise studio Hit It! Fitness, 811 South Blvd., opened about four years ago, neighbors Mary Ann and Joseph Kozlowski have been complaining about the noise, according to Constance Contursi, the studio’s owner.
“They have hated us from day one,” said Contursi of the Kozlowskis, who live in the pink Victorian-style home on the corner of South Boulevard and Grove Avenue. The home is immediately adjacent to the small commercial building which houses the fitness studio.
Hit It! patrons and Contursi feel harassed by the neighbors, while the neighbors have told police the studio’s noise is disrupting their quality of life.
“It’s all about the noise,” said Mary Ann Kozlowski. She and her husband declined to speak further. The Kozlowski’s next door neighbor Kirsten Nelson has also been involved in the noise dispute but refused Wednesday Journal’s requests for comment.
To mollify the neighbors, Contursi said she has offered free fitness classes and given Christmas gifts. She said she’s also offered to pay for their meals at restaurants on nights when the studio has kickboxing or other loud classes, but to no avail.
COVID-19 has amplified the dispute. Police were called to the area to address the increasingly acerbic situation between the neighbors a total of 12 times this year; each instance occurred after the studio reopened following the relaxation of the state-wide stay-at-home order. Wednesday Journal obtained the police reports through a Freedom of Information Act request.
On June 12, Nelson told the responding officer that she felt “bullied” by Contursi.
The next day, police were called again regarding noise, with Kozlowski telling the responding officer the sound was disturbing her quality of life. She also told the officer that the studio was not enforcing social distancing or the wearing of masks. According to the June 13 police report, Kozlowski and Nelson both stated they would not meet with Contursi for mediation.
The police were called twice on July 25 – first at 10:04 a.m. after Kozlowski threw the kettle ball propping the front door open into the street; the door slammed shut when the kettle ball was removed. According to Contursi, doors are opened for ventilation due to COVID-19.
At 2:50 p.m., July 25, an officer, in response to a noise complaint submitted by Kozlowski, went to Hit It! and found the business closed.
A police officer gave a noise citation to Contursi on Aug. 4, in response to a call made by Joseph Kozlowski, who himself was the subject of a police complaint on Aug. 24 made by one of the studio’s patrons.
The Aug. 24 complaint states that Joseph Kozlowski was taunting women attending a class at Hit It! and taking pictures of them, despite being told not to.
The patron recounted another instance wherein Mr. Kozlowski waited outside for people to leave the fitness studio and on one occasion, was holding “cutting shears.” The behavior made the patron feel unsafe and worry for the safety of her daughter, according to the police reports.
A different female patron made a complaint to police on Sept. 22 stating that Mr. Kozlowski was video recording people, including herself and her daughter, as they exercised.
Cedric Melton, Oak Park’s community relations director, said he had reached out to set up mediation between the parties but could give no further details. However, Contursi said Melton offered mediation on two separate occasions and in both instances, the neighbors declined to participate.
Contursi went through an adjudication process with the village on Oct. 22 regarding two noise citations. The Kozlowskis and Nelson were present at the hearing accompanied by their lawyer.
She was found not liable for one of the citations but found liable for the other, which she is trying to appeal.
Contursi now faces the suspension or revocation of her business license. On three separate occasions, a village inspector found that music could be heard from the studio approximately 50 feet from the property and that the studio was in violation of village code.
Contursi herself hired an audiologist to measure sound levels from outside the studio back in August. The audiologist found the noise from the nearby CTA Green Line louder compared to that generated by the studio.
The license hearing date set is set for Dec. 1. As she is presiding over the hearing, Village Manager Cara Pavlicek was not available for comment.
“The intent is not to close the business down, but to try to bring them in compliance with the law,” said Oak Park spokesman David Powers.
Droves of people have publicly backed Contursi and Hit It! Fitness. Village Clerk Vicki Scaman read 32 public comments in support of Hit It! during the Nov. 16 village board meeting.
The Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce also stands beside Contursi, according to a statement sent by the chamber to Wednesday Journal:
“We are 100 percent in support of Hit It! Fitness to be treated fairly and objectively and be afforded every available opportunity to address and mitigate any issues that they are found to be in violation of.”