Self-Storage Developers Overcome Zoning/Building Challenges Through Persistence and Creativity
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
Posted on: 07/05/2011


By Steve Hajewski

In areas where there is unmet self-storage demand, the reason is often barriers to market entry. Perhaps land is hard to come by, too expensive or includes zoning hurdles. Sometimes it’s wise for a developer to move on to an alternate market or land acquisition. In other cases, however, success is just a matter of getting creative and being persistent. Following are stories of self-storage builders who triumphed over challenging locations.

Building Up in Des Moines

For self-storage operator and developer David Paladino, perseverance and imagination were vital to expanding his company’s portfolio. As the owner of Dino’s Storage, with 13 locations in the United States and Canada, Paladino is no stranger to self-storage construction. His facilities include multi-story and conversions as well as traditional buildings and site layouts. Dino's Storage features four stories and large windows to attract customers.

When Paladino was ready to expand in Des Moines, Iowa, he knew sufficient demand existed to warrant a large project, so he acquired a parcel of highly visible land in a high-traffic area. However, half of the parcel was incorrectly zoned, and the process of changing the zoning looked to be an exceptionally long process with no guarantees.

To accommodate the project and lot, the facility was built on the properly zoned section of the land only. But rather than go the traditional single-story route, Paladino built vertically, creating a four-story facility. The building covers as much of the parcel as allowable.

When building a project with interior access, one of the drawbacks is the doors are no longer visible from the exterior. Knowing doors are a critical identifying characteristic of self-storage facilities, Palladino added large windows to portions of the building to create visual interest while communicating the building’s function to the public.

The project’s urban location could have made it susceptible to theft, but as an experienced operator, Paladino knew the importance of an effective security system. “We’ve caught several criminals with the combination of access control and cameras,” he says. “If you break in, you’re done.”

Visible and Secure in Las Cruces
For self-storage developer and owner Max Schroeder, the challenge was taking advantage of a reasonably priced parcel near a main thoroughfare in Las Cruces, N.M., even though it was not entirely visible and was zoned for residential, not self-storage. “What we found is if we can buy land zoned as residential and convert it to commercial, we can triple the value when it’s rezoned,” Schroeder says. Because this facility isn’t on the main road, it was designed to take advantage of traffic from a nearby grocery store.

He purchased the property and subdivided it, leaving the existing home as a rental property, then creating a self-storage portion and an additional parcel out front for another business. The downside to Schroeder’s plan was it took about a year to obtain zoning approval. The city also required him to pay for significant upgrades to bring city water and sewer roughly 2,000 feet to the property. While this was a major expense, the bargain price of the land and otherwise good location made the project feasible.

As Schroeder designed the site, steps were taken to maximize exposure, minimize maintenance and provide high security for the facility, Discount Self Storage. “We wanted to say ‘Hey, we’re self storage,’ but do it in a southwest style,” Schroeder said. To achieve this, he surrounded the site with a combination of stone fence and perimeter buildings with parapet walls coated in stucco. The walls feature false doors and decorative trim, which look attractive yet signal the property is a self-storage business. The 1,800-square-foot office/manager apartment continues the southwest theme with stucco walls and a Spanish-tile roof.

Security was also a concern. While there isn’t a huge crime problem in the area, Schroeder wanted to reduce the occasional graffiti that comes with an urban location, so he installed a chain-link fence around the property edge. The city required a landscaped buffer zone between the residential neighbors and the self-storage business, and this was installed between the tall stucco wall and chain-link fence. The buffer area contains a mix of gravel and oak trees selected for minimal maintenance.

Since the site isn’t on the main road, it was designed to take advantage of traffic from a nearby grocery store. The parapet walls, signage and office structure are as tall as allowable and can be seen clearly from the grocer’s parking lot. The main artery is exceptionally busy, so the slightly removed location has the benefit of providing easier access for customers coming in with trucks and trailers.

The property has a 12-foot drop from one end to the other. In the second phase, Schroeder specified buildings roofed with a “rolling step.” This simplifies the design by eliminating an elevation step and the accompanying trim, and gently angling the roof sheets. Inside, ramps provide ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) access from one elevation to the next.

Finding the Diamond in the Rough
It seems every developer faces some obstacles when it comes to building self-storage. The key to success is to persist and overcome those hurdles, perhaps even turning them into a positive aspect of the site. Storage businesses can be adapted to fit hilly or odd-shaped parcels of land that other businesses reject. Seeing past irregularities and envisioning the potential of a site is a part of many success stories in our industry. Good luck finding your diamond in the rough!

Steve Hajewski is the marketing manager at Trachte Building Systems, which designs, manufactures and erects a full line of pre-engineered and customized steel self-storage systems. He can be reached at 800.356.5824; e-mail; visit