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Multi-Story Storage: Building 'Up' Allows a Washington Developer to Maximize Land and Highlight Upscale Elements


By Greg Moore

When the Gilroy family set out to build their third self-storage facility in Washington, a residential design in multiple stories coupled with high-end features allowed them to make the most of a smaller building footprint. The developers faced restrictive site conditions as well as design and zoning challenges, but persevered to create a characteristic addition to an already busy market.

The Gilroys chose the site for Stor-House Self Storage & Wine Storage, their first multi-story facility, because of its proximity to downtown Bellevue, an affluent Seattle suburb. Through the years, the Gilroys witnessed the city’s growth firsthand, and capitalized on it by opening single-story in-fill projects surrounded by residential neighborhoods. This was a major facet of the family’s branding process, leading to an overall design concept that’s residential in nature.

When the right property came up for sale, adjacent and visible to1-405 and less than half a mile from a downtown off-ramp, the family purchased it right away. The 2.29-acre parcel was zoned light industrial and located within a Transition Area Overlay District.

The feasibility study found six other storage facilities in the immediate market, four of which are owned and operated by Public Storage. All told, the competition had 4,181 units between them and was maintaining occupancies of more than 90 percent. The study showed the market could bear another an additional 90,000 net square feet of storage.

Due to restrictive site conditions, careful consideration was made to maximize the building size and minimize construction costs. The development team designed a building footprint of 39,640 gross square feet that would reach four stories. The project would ultimately contain 120,980 square feet and 735 climate-controlled self-storage units.

After examining geo reports and building loads, it was decided the building had to be split into two sections. The south portion became a three-story building with a basement, as described by building codes and sloping grades. The north portion became a two-story building with a mezzanine. This actually facilitated the construction sequencing, as the contractor was able to maneuver equipment and materials in an ordered manner throughout the construction phase.

Preliminary Design, Zoning and Pre-Development

When the Gilroys purchased the property in June 2006, it was vacant. It also came with permits to construct a 140,000-square-foot office building with underground parking, but the Gilroys had other plans. In September 2007, they used the already-permitted plans to grade and clear the site. Pre-loading was necessary to prepare for the self-storage construction.

More than 3,000 cubic yards of material was dug out of the hillside along the south edge of the property and placed throughout the northern portions of the site for surcharge purposes. The development was also affected by two sensitive areas: steep slopes of approximately 35 percent to 40 percent throughout the south and southeast parts, and wetlands on the state-owned property to the north of the site.

The steep slope and wetland areas remained largely undisturbed, but each carried a building setback imposed by the city—75 feet in the case of the steep slopes, and 60 feet for the wetlands. Since the steep-slope buffer was very low in quality due to the activities of the previous property owner, a storage yard for a construction company, the Gilroys negotiated with the city to build a retaining wall that would allow the building to be closer to the slope.

In the case of the wetlands, the Gilroys elected to restore and enhance the buffer, which had become overgrown with blackberry and other noxious weeds, with native plantings. The family was not required to this, but thought it would add to the overall street appeal.

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