When Les Bonsu moved his Bonsu Elite Athletics (BEA) training facility from Modesto to Ceres in April, he failed to get the proper city approval to operate within an industrial area. That oversight placed him before the Ceres Planning Commission on Monday, which approved his request for a conditional use permit.
Bonsu set up his business in a 7,000-plus-square-foot facility at 3427 Railroad Avenue, offering a wide range of sports performance and fitness training. BEA's old center was a 2,500-square-foot building at 401 Bangs Avenue in Modesto.
The Railroad Avenue facility has a general plan designation of Light Industrial which encourages fabrication, light manufacturing, heavy commercial uses, offices, and recreational uses. Since the zoning is Light Industrial, a sports training facility is "not a principal use listed in that zoning designation," said Tom Westbrook, director of Community Development for the city of Ceres. However, while the Ceres zoning ordinance does not spell out that "sports performance training facility" are allowed in the LI zone, the ordinance allows manufacturing zones to include "convenience oriented retail and service commercial uses" primarily intended to serve the principal uses of the zone district. Such uses include but are not limited to: restaurants/coffee shops, food stores, confectionary stores, gift shops, barber and/or beauty shops, etc. The Zoning Ordinance provides the Planning Commission limited authority to allow a sports performance training facility within an industrial zone district with the approval of a Conditional Use Permit.
Westbrook became aware that Bonsu set up shop in Ceres without city approval after spotting the business sign on the building from Highway 99. The city worked with Bonsu to get him into compliance.
Westbrook told the commission that unlike a regular gym that sees heavy amounts of use by the general public, Bonsu provides specialized training for fewer top youth athletes aged 8 and older seeking to increase speed, agility or strength.
Bonsu provides parking for eight vehicles and a typical gym would call for 26 spaces. City staff checked on the facility and noted that parking has not been an issue, mostly because athletes receiving are not of driving age and are being dropped off for training.
Bonsu and his staff train up to 180 people per week in sessions offered 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.
Because the conditional use permit is only good for three years, Bonsu will have to file for another one and pay the $1,200 application fee. That prompted Commissioner Laurie Smith to suggest that she didn't like businesses having to pay the expensive fee.
"I'm not a fan of requiring that," said Smith. "I think that the idea of review at the three-year mark is appropriate to make sure that the uses remain consistent with the area but I don't want to penalize the business financially.... Twelve hundred dollars is a lot of money."
Westbrook noted that the fee is designed to recoup the city's costs. Smith however suggested the fee should be reduced of waived if there were no complaints and the business seemed to be complying.
Bonsu had a chance to talk about his business, noting that he provides training to athletes for most sports, including football, basketball, karate, baseball and softball. He said most of his athletes are high school students looking for stellar careers that lead to college scholarships.
Smith told Bonsu "welcome to Ceres. We're happy to have you here. Be sure to get your business license and all of those things and get compliant with the rules and regulations. We look forward to you being a prosperous business here in Ceres."
Commissioner Hugo Molina wondered about the impact of the loss of industrial space. Westbrook said the commission may be asked to determine if future uses like this should be allowed but Smith suggested the zoning in this case is for light industrial.