Crossfit gym in Historic District generates discussion as council weighs its future

People enter Crossfit CSG on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Columbus, Ga. There is a sign in front of Crossfit CSG regarding a special exception use request.
People enter Crossfit CSG on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, in Columbus, Ga. There is a sign in front of Crossfit CSG regarding a special exception use request.

A health and fitness facility that opened last year on Front Avenue in Columbus, on the fringes of the Historic District, has generated concern among some residents, putting the issue of spot zoning before the city’s elected officials.

The matter was taken up by Columbus Council during its Feb. 12 meeting, with council members considering the amendment to a unified development ordinance and possibly granting a special exception for Crossfit CSG and its owner, Joanne Cogle.

No final decision was made by council, which wants to seek more input from the public.

“As a property owner myself, I completely understand where my neighbors are coming from, where I would not necessarily want a huge fitness facility next door to my house,” Cogle told council.

Cogle opened the business in October at 710 Front Ave. initially operating under the certificate of occupancy of her landlord, River Valley Regional Commission.

Cogle, a Historic District resident, said joining a vibrant and growing downtown area as a business was important to her. She said classes are capped at about 15 people per session, with weekends having a few more participants, so there would not be a huge increase in traffic. Also, the business has a dedicated parking lot, Cogle said.

“So if you’re looking at the traffic impact, we’re looking at maybe 30 cars coming in and out of our parking lot throughout the day,” she said. “Most of our classes are in the morning and then in the evening after business hours. That parking lot is accessible to our athletes and to our members. So we’re off-the-street parking. We have very low impact.”

City manager Isaiah Hugley said the 23,958-square-foot Front Avenue building, home to a dialysis center years ago, is partly owned by the River Valley Regional Commission, a government organization that leased it to the fitness facility. The launch of the business generated questions as the building permit for outfitting the gym was issued and equipment began to be delivered.

The city’s Planning Department received a complaint from a neighbor in November, which was forwarded to the city attorney for an opinion. It was determined that the business was not in compliance with the unified development ordinance. A special enforcement officer told Cogle in early December that she would have to comply.

Cogle appeared before council a week later to request her own temporary certificate of occupancy until everything could be worked out. Council granted her a certificate until the end of April, allowing her to continue operating.

During last week’s meeting, the council worked to eliminate any confusion surrounding the business that lies on the fringe of the historic district. It’s in an area of the city that already has plenty of commercial entities operating within its official boundaries, including the Columbus Marriott Hotel.

Columbus planning director Rick Jones said he cannot recall there being any spot zoning applications for the Historic District. Jones said current non-residential uses allowed without any spot zoning or special exceptions include personal-care homes for six people or less, day-care facilities, someone working out of a home office, artist galleries, and gift and antique shops. A restaurant would be allowed with a special exception, he said.

Councilor Mimi Woodson, whose district includes the historic neighborhood, said she has received calls and emails from concerned citizens about the gym. She called for a “level playing field,” saying if one business is going to be held to rules and regulations, then all should. Some commercial entities, including the Marriott, have been grandfathered into the district through the years.

Councilor John House asked that should a text amendment change in the ordinance be approved for the health and fitness business, would it allow similar fitness operator to enter the district. He also asked if any future businesses approaching the area would need a special exception, as well.

“It does not grant (future business prospects) anything. There’s nothing absolute about it,” Jones said. “They still have to come before (council). They still have to go through a public hearing. We still have to post a sign. We still have to do notices, just like we do on everything else. And you get to make that final determination.”

Tentatively, the case could return before the Planning Advisory Commission the first week of March, Jones said. He said a meeting will be scheduled to allow the public to speak on the matter.

At the council meeting, Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson pledged to not allow any harm come to the Historic District.

“The Historic District is such a unique area. It is finding its balance of the services and the restaurants and the opportunities that residents want, and making sure that it still maintains that unique historic flavor. Our focus is on protecting that,” Henderson said.