Dave Swanson, owner of Lake City Gymnastics and Impact Sports LLC, talks to the Warsaw Board of Zoning Appeals Monday on the gymnastic center’s future new location at 610 Bell Drive. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union

Dave Swanson, owner of Lake City Gymnastics and Impact Sports LLC, talks to the Warsaw Board of Zoning Appeals Monday on the gymnastic center’s future new location at 610 Bell Drive. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union

In the last four years, Lake City Gymnastics has grown from 40 to 800 students, but a landscaping requirement for a parking lot at its future location brought the owner and his attorney before the Warsaw Board of Zoning Appeals.

Lake City Gymnastics petitioned Monday for a variance from development standards to construct a parking lot with no landscaping islands, medians or peninsulas for the parcel at 610 Bell Drive, which is surrounded by Industrial-2 zoning on three sides with the county to the north, according to Warsaw Assistant Planner Bekah Schrag.

City code requires that for nonresidential and multi-family residential surface parking areas, “a minimum of 5{6d6906d986cb38e604952ede6d65f3d49470e23f1a526661621333fa74363c48} of the total parking area shall be landscaped. Such landscaping shall be distributed within the parking area, occurring within medians, islands or peninsulas. One tree shall be provided for each 10 parking spaces and shall be located in such a manner that no parking space is further than 100 feet from a tree.”

Schrag told the BZA, “Most of the surrounding properties in city limits have gravel drives and parking areas with no interior landscaping. Moreover, the petitioner is improving the property and offers health and recreation classes for the region’s youth. The city is excited to see this business grow and create an improved facility that will serve the community. However, implementing the required interior landscaping will further improve the property value, and would cost about 1.5{6d6906d986cb38e604952ede6d65f3d49470e23f1a526661621333fa74363c48} more than the current construction cost.”

Based on her comments and findings of facts, Schrag said she did not find that there is an unnecessary hardship in requiring the petitioner to create interior landscaping in their parking lot. She recommended the board deny the request to allow no internal landscaping in a surface parking lot.

Attorney Steve Snyder, representing the gymnastics center and owner Dave Swanson, said the property is owned by Impact Sports LLC.

“The planned use of this property is essentially a gymnastics area. A facility that, it turns out, there was more of a demand for it in the community than Dave Swanson, who is the owner, thought,” Snyder said. “About four years ago, he began an operation in a small building on Kosciusko Drive, and it grew, much more rapidly I think than he anticipated. As a result, what started out with 40 students now has 800 students. One of the largest facilities in the state, and when that developed, he said, ‘I need to find space.’”

While Swanson was looking for space over the last few years, Snyder said a lot of things raised their “ugly head,” including Covid and inflation. “And then to add a little more burden to that, this particular property had environmental problems that had to go through both a Phase I and a Phase II. A Phase II means you’re going to be out there taking soil samples and remediating something, which finally got done, but delayed the process even further.”

That delay allowed inflation to kick in to an even more significant effect than it might have otherwise, he said. “So every penny that goes into this proposal is crucial.”

When the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a loan, they approve it with some very strict contingencies that have to be met, Snyder said, including a design phase and detailed financial documentation. All of that is based upon what the anticipated expenses are for the rehabilitation of the building.

“So what we’re asking for tonight is not a significant change from your development standards, but it is one that adds significant expense and burden to the development of the property,” Snyder said.

With 94 planned parking spaces for the parking lot, he said the city code would require them to have nine or 10 trees in the parking lot. “We’re proposing no trees within the boundaries of the parking lot,” Snyder said. He pointed out that the property is significantly wooded, and the current building is going to remain with significant additions and modifications.

“But, for the most part, the trees on the remainder of the property will remain as is except for those that have to be removed for the parking lot,” he said.

“What we’re trying to do is accommodate 800 students, not all at the same time, but over various activities throughout the day and in the evening,” Snyder said, pointing out a Ninja Core Program, as an example, that has 200 students in it.

He said the facility is an attraction to the city and one can tell that by its growth in four years.

With the redeveloped building, he said what they will end up with is that it will be within the top three of the largest buildings for gymnastics use in the state.

“And it actually will be about the top in the state for the amenities that will be provided,” Snyder said. The building is being remodeled with new bathrooms, mezzanine floor above the bathrooms to provide a viewing area for parents, four in-ground trampolines, two large in-ground pits, an in-ground 40-foot long tumble track, two other tumble tracks, beams, bars, general floor area and a designated Ninja Core area of about 4,000 square feet.

Indiana American Water Company doesn’t provide water out to that location, so Snyder said a well will have to be put in large enough to meet the commercial requirements of the State Board of Health, adding a more significant expense.

After arguing there is no need for landscaping within the parking lot, and arguing the loss of parking spaces is a hardship, Snyder pointed out the facility will draw additional people to the city and no public funding is being provided to it.

Swanson told the board he and his wife moved from Indianapolis to Warsaw six years ago. Their current location at 1695 E. Kosciusko Drive is leased by Fred Brouwer. They borrowed $60,000 and 0{6d6906d986cb38e604952ede6d65f3d49470e23f1a526661621333fa74363c48} interest credit cards to get the business started, and even put a second mortage on their house.

“We went all in to see this business started,” he said. “About four years to the day, it’s pretty much a miracle, and, honestly, we believe it is a miracle that God has provided this building for us to move into now.”

Swanson said they got approved for a SBA loan last March and then, during the SBA process after they approved the amount, they found a few issues with their Phase II and it took them six months to get that resolved through the state. He said he had to get state Rep. Craig Snow involved to try to expediate the process.

“The reason why I say that is, during those six months, it was the worse time where I have a set SBA loan. My loan was set. I couldn’t increase it anymore,” Swanson said. During those six months, his construction costs went up, as well as the cost of new equipment he had to purchase, by $70,000. He had a $50,000 buffer in his loan for unexpected expenses. The loan closed in October, when they thought it was going to close in February 2022. He said the city’s codes on islands would cost him another $20,000, which he doesn’t have, plus he needs all the parking spaces he can get.

“The hardship is way more than I think it was presented,” he said.

Matt Goebel, a parent of three kids in the gymnastics program, spoke in support of Swanson and against the landscaping requirement.

BZA Vice President Rick Keeven asked city attorney Scott Reust if Swanson’s financial hardship qualifies as a unique hardship.

Reust said probably no one wants to spend $80,000 on trees in a parking lot.

“What I did hear, and I’m almost certain I heard Mr. Snyder say, is, there maybe would be a hardship to this property because – the aerial photos he provided shows that that property is unique in that there are many other trees located on the property that are still going to be on the property. If a parking lot was built, that might accomplish some of those environmental stuff. So I think it’s reasonable, in my mind, that the additional landscape that they’re going to put in, the trees that remain on the rather large property … there seems to be a lot of other trees on that property that are going to be left,” Reust said, suggesting the board looking at the big picture of it all. He also reminded the board that the decision they make is a decision just for this case and it does not set precedent.

Board member Jeff Johnson eventually made a motion to approve the variance, board member Bob Coffelt seconded it and it passed 3-1 with Dan Smith opposed.

In other business, the board approved:

• Jay and Debra Baumgartner’s petition for a variance from development standards to allow a taller-than-permitted accessory structure at 111 Woodlawn Drive, which is in a Residential-1 district. They requested 21 feet in height, but the board approved 18 feet.

The structure will be about 50 feet by 30 feet with an additional 8-foot-wide porch. The petitioner wants to use the accessory structure as a pool house, as well as storage of their 12-foot-tall travel trailer, Schrag indicated.

• Precision Medical Technologies’ petition for a variance from development standards to allow a gravel access drive at 2059 Pound Drive, in an I-2 zoning district.

The drive would connect a current gravel parking lot to the back of the facility for recycling and trash services. The property is surrounded by industrial zoning and other facilities near the parcel contain gravel parking areas and access drives, according to Schrag.