Kenyon: It’s not working out

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 05-30-2023 9:46 AM

Before turning in for the night, Dave Gifford wedges wax plugs into both ears and cranks up the white noise machine next to the bed in his studio apartment near downtown Lebanon.

“And I still get woken up at 5 in the morning,” Gifford said. “The floor shakes. My bed shakes.”

Gifford, 52, has lived in the former Lebanon Junior High School at 75 Bank St., for three years. But the early-morning “headbanging, heavy metal music” and the sound of weightlifting plates slamming against the floor directly below his apartment is new, he said.

CrossFit Off The Green, an affiliate of the gym brand known for high-intensity, military-style workouts, moved into the building’s basement last month.

CrossFit’s first one-hour class of the day starts at 5 a.m., Monday through Friday. It’s followed by a 6 a.m. session. Along with early morning classes, CrossFit offers sessions at lunchtime and early evening. The last class finishes at 7:45 p.m.

Lebanon officials are aware of the situation and understand where tenants are coming from, City Manager Shaun Mulholland told me.

“We all know that gyms with metal banging metal can be noisy,” he said.

But the New Hampshire Supreme Court made it clear in Girard v. Town of Allenstown, a 1981 decision, that “municipalities do not have any authority over rental properties (other than zoning),” Mulholland said.

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City officials are looking into the noise issue, but it “looks like there is nothing from the zoning side that we can do,” he added.

The former junior high is zoned for mixed use, meaning it can have residential and commercial spaces. Previously, another gym rented the basement, but noise wasn’t a problem, tenants told me.

Upper Valley developer Mike Davidson bought the 1920s two-story brick building from the city’s school district for $800,000 in 2013. Davidson’s property rental company, Ledgeworks, manages the building.

In the housing-sparse Upper Valley, the 43 apartments were a welcome addition. The building is adjacent to the Northern Rail Trail, making it a prime location for outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Gifford pays $1,400 a month in rent, plus utilities, which is about the going rate for even small apartments in Lebanon.

Friction between tenants and owners of the gym (or box, in CrossFit parlance) began on day one. Ledgeworks failed to tell its residential tenants in advance that CrossFit had signed a five-year lease to occupy what was once the junior high’s basketball court, where rubber mats cover the wood floor.

For the tenants who lived closest to the gym, it was a rude awakening. Gifford, a Lebanon car salesman who sets his alarm for 7:20 most mornings, was unprepared for the 5 a.m. revelry.

Gifford, still in his underwear, marched downstairs to the basement. A dozen CrossFit members, who pay $180 a month, and their trainers were jumping into their morning routine of deadlifts, burpees and hanging knee raises to pump-me-up music.

“What the (bleep) is going on?” Gifford shouted.

It went downhill from there.

When he complained to Ledgeworks, Gifford said he got only “lip service.” After he started videotaping classes to give to Ledgeworks, CrossFit’s owners taped cardboard over the small windows in some of the gym’s double doors.

While Gifford has complained the loudest, other tenants have made noise as well.

Last week, with a 6:45 p.m. class revving up downstairs, I knocked on the doors of Gifford’s first-floor neighbors. (Noise doesn’t seem to be an issue for tenants on the top floor.)

Leon Gran, who grew up in Lebanon, went to school in the building he’s lived in for the last year. Gran, an electrician, leaves for work early in the morning. The music and thumping of weights has “become my alarm clock,” he said.

Like Gifford, he sent a recording of the noise that permeates his studio apartment to Ledgeworks. In an email response, Ledgeworks told Gran, “We’re working on it.”

For Gran, the music and clanging of weights is more of a problem in the evening when he’s trying to read or relax.

“It sounds like a dance club down there,” he said. “I know I sound like an old man telling kids to get off my lawn, but it’s an annoyance.”

Metal cookware hangs on the wall of his small kitchen. “When they’re dropping heavy weights, the pots and pans are rattling,” Gran said. “You can just feel the vibration.”

Gran, 45, pointed out that “a lot of people in the building work odd shifts.”

I talked with a woman who works as a housekeeper. Sometimes, she doesn’t get home from her job until after 2 a.m. The noise from the gym, she told me, “starts very early.”

I met with the gym’s owners last week. Scott Prince and Chris Wilder are longtime personal trainers in the Upper Valley who have built up a strong following. CrossFit itself is one of the largest fitness brands with more than 6,000 affiliate gyms in the U.S.

In March 2021, Prince and Wilder opened CrossFit Off the Green in a warehouse on Spencer Street, but outgrew the space. Their gym has 70 to 100 members, Wilder said.

Tim Sidore, Ledgeworks’ chief of operations, told me he’s confident “we’ll work through the issues.” He read me an email from a tenant, thanking CrossFit for turning off a music speaker near a doorway.

“We don’t want to be a problem,” Prince said. “We want to be an asset for the community.”

In weightlifting areas, Prince and Wilder have added “crash cushions.” In Olympic weightlifting, a mainstay of CrossFit’s training regimen, however, “when that bar hits the ground,” Prince said, “it’s going to make noise.”

While the candor is appreciated, I’m not sure that’s what Gifford and other tenants want to hear.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.