Shurgard of Colonialtown

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Shurgard of Colonialtown is an example of what can happen when organizations work together toward a common goal. Liberty Investment Properties Inc. and affiliate partner Shurgard Storage Centers Inc., along with the Colonialtown and Park/Lake Highland neighborhood associations and staff from the city of Orlando, Fla., collaborated to ensure this facility would provide an aesthetically pleasing architectural design while capturing its namesake's neo-traditional style. To make it all work, help was requested from The Rabco Corp., the law firm of Holland & Knight, Oden-Hardy Construction, U.S. Door & Building Components and Lundberg Properties.

Building a facility convenient for local residents and businesses was Liberty's main goal. It had targeted north downtown Orlando nearly five years before locating the ideal self-storage site. This trade area had the highest population-to-storage-supply ratio in the metro area, and a three-mile radius that had been served by only two self-storage facilities. The older area near downtown was densely developed with few vacant parcels. In fact, nearly all new developments were conversion efforts. The area is part of a "traditional" city-zoning overlay district and most commercial parcels are no larger than 1.5 acres.

During the search for the ideal location, Liberty discovered a 1.44-acre site that contained two buildings. The property had been previously under contract for more than a year and proposed for redevelopment with a troubled-youth rehabilitation facility. The two neighborhood associations strongly opposed the use and spent $10,000 fighting the deal, which ultimately fell through. When Liberty found the property relisted, it was shocked to learn one of its largest competitors had already inquired about the building's availability and met with the city planning and zoning staff.

At the time, zoning and land-use codes would not allow for self-storage development of an economically feasible size on this particular site. Still, Liberty felt it could sell city officials and neighbors on the concept. Coming off an exhaustive battle with the previous buyer, they were willing to listen. More important, they wanted to be involved.

Zoning Issues

The zoning of the site was split with a commercial zoning in front and residential in the back. The commercial mixed-use traditional zoning allowed self-storage as a conditional use. The residential zoning allowed parking to serve adjacent commercial uses, but could not be developed with a commercial building of any sort. A rezoning of the residential area was unlikely and later confirmed by the local residents who said they would fight any further encroachment of commercial zonings into their neighborhoods.

Although the residential area of the site could be used in calculating the floor-area ratio (FAR), this would allow only 31,000-plus square feet of building area. More than twice that amount was needed for the project to be feasible.

The city also had a land-development code for self-storage facilities requiring either a 3-acre site minimum or 65,000 square feet of building area. Obviously, Liberty could not meet the minimum with 1.4 acres, and because of the existing FAR, the company could not build the required square footage. However, the city staff recognized that when the land-development code was written, a multistory facility in urban areas had not even been conceptualized.

The major point of discussion with the city centered around bulk intensity of development. Liberty pointed out it could build a one-story commercial structure of approximately 25,000 square feet. This structure would be 35 feet high and contain a total of 875,000 cubic feet of space. The company argued a three-story facility wouldn't include any more bulk intensity, but couldn't be developed under the existing code because it would be viewed as a 75,000-square-foot building, which would exceed the FAR maximum.

Liberty went on to describe how this facility wouldn't generate a fraction of the traffic other commercial uses would. It would require few parking spaces and could still bring a significant tax base to the community. The city staff concurred and agreed to amend the land-use code by counting only the first floor in FAR calculations. The city also took the opportunity to add a requirement that at least 1,500 square feet of space had to be dedicated to light retail or personal-service use, since this amendment was occurring in the mixed-use zoning category.

City officials made it clear they would work on resolving the code issues, allowing the company to present the project for a conditional-use permit. But even that by itself wasn't nearly enough to take this project from concept to reality. City officials also wanted the neighborhood to back the project.

Gaining Acceptance

Still without a contract to purchase the property, Liberty met with the Colonialtown and Park/Lake Highland associations. The company was not very well received; but after presenting some factual information and lending a sympathetic ear, it gained some acceptance.

The associations approved the formation of a neighborhood committee to discuss with the developer issues such as site and building design, style, access and hours of operation. Nearly 15 residents attended the first meeting, including both association presidents. They discussed ways to build a facility that would fit into the community, protect existing trees on the site and limit access to the property. At a follow-up meeting, Liberty presented three different front elevations with distinctly different design styles. By the third meeting, momentum began to build. The associations felt represented and influential in the development of its commercial corridor.

The Approvals

As part of the processes for land-development code and conditional-use approval, Liberty had to overcome concerns from municipal-planning board members regarding scale and size. The company used creative exhibits including computerized renderings of the front and back of the site. Developers even photographed the front elevations of a stretch of two city blocks in each direction of the site by taking photos directly across the street every 20 yards. These photos were attached side by side and mounted on an exhibit board. The rendering was inserted into the photo to show how the proposed building would fit into the existing streetscape design and scale of the neighborhood. Liberty also used other exhibits including graphs and charts showing impacts of other uses, as well as heights, buffer yards and setbacks for existing buildings near the site.

At the public hearing, only two residents from the neighborhood opposed the project. Unfortunately, the vote was tabled due to time constraints and rescheduled for the following month. After the meeting, developers met with one of the opposed residents, who happened to own rental properties adjacent to the proposed site. The site plan was reconfigured to address his particular concerns. At the next meeting, without opposition and with support from both HOA presidents, the board approved the project with a vote of 5-4.

Building the Facility

Building design and structure were the next major issue. Four floors within a typical three-story, 35-foot-high building meant reduced floor-to-floor heights of only 8 feet, 8 inches. This resulted in a number of challenges including hallway-system conflicts with beam locations, air-circulation problems as a result of minimal spaces for ductwork, and conflicts in placing mechanical equipment, fire-exit signs and sprinkler piping. Numerous construction meetings were held at the site to work through issues envisioned during the design stages.

In the End

Physical-property challenges, split zonings, code interpretations, existing structures, traditional neighborhoods and homeowners associations were just a few issues to contend with in completion of the project. Planning boards, public hearings and building design were others. These descriptions are only a very small part of what actually took place. There were other plots and subplots, and one meeting after another just to keep hope of the development alive. In the end, no obstacle could slow progress on this unique storage center.

As many developers can attest, surrounding residents to a project can be your best ally--or your worst enemy. How Shurgard of Colonialtown came to be is a tribute to the hard work of all parties involved. Liberty Investment and Shurgard Storage Centers are proud to be a part of this neighborhood that was able to see past the challenges to the end result.

For more information, contact Shurgard-Colonial Town Joint Venture at 407.774.8818.

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