Finding new businesses knocking on the door to its oldest industrial park, Burnsville has decided to let a sports performance center in now and consider others later in the year.

After approval by the Planning Commission and Economic Development Commission, the City Council last week amended the zoning code to admit sports performance centers as a conditional use in the 241-acre industrial park north of Hwy. 13 near Cliff Road and S. 12th Avenue.

The industrial park, which sits on the bluff overlooking the Minnesota River, is the oldest industrial zone in the city, with mostly single-story buildings built in the 1970s and 1980s for multiple tenants of offices and warehouses.

Because its buildings have ceilings 14 to 15 feet high, the industrial park has lost some tenants seeking extra space in newer industrial and warehouse buildings offering 24- to 32-foot ceilings. But lower rents in the spaces they are vacating are attracting new small businesses. That brought the sports center to Burnsville's attention.

Margaret Linvill Smith of Linvill Properties, whose firm leases to 100 businesses in eight buildings it owns in the industrial park, prompted discussion of the zoning by leasing to a weightlifting sports center, then finding out the city did not permit it and then seeking a permit for it.

"We did lease to a sports training facilities unbeknownst to us that it was not a permitted use,'' she said. "We get a lot of requests for that kind of use. It's the evolution of sports training. People want to have one-on-one sports trainers."

Changing zoning to allow new uses is the way to keep up with what is going on in the economy, Linvill Smith said. "As the economy evolves, the businesses evolve."

No one objected to the zoning change in two public comment sessions. The city defines a sports performance training center as a private business not open to the general public, offering athletic training by appointment for specific sports and athletic activities often associated with athletic organizations and schools.

Sports centers are currently allowed in Burnsville in other industrial zones, and existing ones include Pitch 2 Pitch and Midwest Volleyball Warehouse.

Triggered by the sports center discussion, the city will undertake a larger review of its industrial zones and a proposed zoning ordinance amendment will be presented to the Planning Commission, the planning staff said, noting that it is now apparent that "there are currently allowed uses in I-1 [industrial zone] that may not be suitable anymore and there are newer emerging land uses that are not listed that make sense to allow in the I-1 district.''

Amending the ordinance will require careful consideration, said Alan Brixius, consulting planner for the city, who will draft a proposed change. "The way the ordinance is written right now, we have commercial uses rolling into the industrial districts" without evaluation of whether they are appropriate, Brixius said. One part of the discussion will be whether retail and wholesale businesses fit in industrial districts and whether they should be removed or subjected to more conditions, he said.

While it's certainly one of Burnsville's goals to keep its industrial park buildings full by allowing sports centers and other appropriate uses, the city has to be careful what uses it allows, Brixius said. Keeping buildings full should be balanced with the goal of preserving areas where traditional industrial uses can continue to operate without concern about noise or smells or trucks, Brixius said. Zoning districts are designed to separate land uses to promote compatibility and reduce nuisances from building uses that may clash, he said.

The open floor space and lower rent of industrial buildings are appealing to a lot of start-up companies that do not require much parking, but the goal is to allow only the ones that are compatible with industrial uses, Brixius said.

In one example of a conditional use that went awry, a fabric warehouse was admitted to an industrial park in New Hope. "It started selling retail, and their business became popular and overwhelmed the parking lot," Brixius said.