A GYMNASIUM in Wellard that provides specialist training sessions for small groups of clients was forced to close this week by the City of Kwinana for breaching zoning rules.
The Fearwot Gym had been operating for six years before a neighbour complained earlier this year after it was moved to a new shed on owner Jodie Lehman’s property.
Ms Lehman said the property was zoned special rural, allowing for a home occupation of 20sq m, while the gym occupies 100sq m.
She faces a fine of $200,000 if she continues to operate the business, with a $25,000 penalty for every day that it is open.
The gym has about 80 clients, who attend small classes of up to five people during the week.
They have rallied around the cause, raising a petition of more than 2000 signatures earlier this year and lobbying local politicians to keep the gym open.
Ms Lehman said she was fighting to keep the gym open for her clients.
“I can go work at any other gym but what happens to the 80 people who have finally found something that they can go to and feel comfortable with,” she said.
“They have a really good rapport with me, their training is out of this world and they are achieving, which is something they never thought they could because there was never something like this that they could go to.”
Ms Lehman acknowledged she had been “massaging” the zoning rules but urged the City to weigh up the community benefits the gym provided.
“There is so much greatness that comes out of here,” Ms Lehman said.
“We should work together to try to find a way we can keep it going; it’s for the health of the community.
She said it would not be economically viable to continue to run her small classes by paying rent at a commercial premises.
Ms Lehman is taking her campaign to the State Administrative Tribunal to get a zoning exemption or planning amendment and has obtained legal and planning support.
She has asked the city to allow her to re-open the gym until the tribunal makes a final decision on her case.
“I get that we are breaking the law but I just think that we can work together,” she said.
“It is such an amazing facility and it really helps so many people mentally as well as physically.
“We’ve got a lot of clients that just can’t go anywhere else and shutting us down, like we currently are, is really affecting a lot of people.”
One of her clients, Tanya McLachlan said she has anxiety issues and can’t go to regular gyms.
“Since I’ve been with Jodie my confidence has improved and I have realised that I deserve a lot of things and I can do things if I put my mind to it,” she said.
“I can’t walk into a normal gym, I’ve tried it on weekends and I get panic attacks.”
She said Ms Lehman’s small class sizes was like having her own personal trainer.
A delegation of Kwinana staff, including Mayor Carol Adams, visited the gym on Tuesday.
Mayor Carol Adams said it was a difficult situation for everyone concerned.
“It has caused a lot of anger to be vented at the council over a situation that in reality is not of our making,” Cr Adams said.
Cr Adams visited the gym on Tuesday and said the planning laws were such that “neither I nor any individual, politician or council officer has a discretion to vary the town planning scheme to allow the gym to operate in the particular location”.
“Council is keen to support local businesses but our hands are literally tied on this one,” she said.
Cr Adams said it was unfortunate the owner had not made inquiries with the council about whether a gym was permitted in this location before starting.
“The owner has been advised that under the City’s town planning scheme, a gymnasium is a prohibited use in a special rural area where the property is located,” she said
Cr Adams said the City responded to complaints about a gymnasium operating from a residential property zoned as special rural in January.
“Following inquiries, it was apparent the owner had not sought advice from the City before commencing operation and making significant alterations to the property,” she said.
She acknowledged that Ms Lehman and her clients were very loyal and passionate about their gym and the health and wellness benefits that it provided.