Self-Storage Planning and Zoning: A Facility Owner's Guide to Getting Project Approval

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By Marc Goodin

You’ve found a piece of land and the only thing standing between you and your dream of building a self-storage facility is getting your approvals from the town. We’re always hearing about the projects that are rejected, but after 30 years as a civil engineer designing self-storage sites, including the three I own, I can personally attest that the vast majority are approved.

However, if you don’t do your homework, you could be stopped dead in your tracks. Fortunately, if you’re prepared and ready to answer just about any question or concern your town’s zoning department may have, more often than not, you’ll gain their support.

Understand the Regulations

The first step in being prepared for approval is having complete plans that meet the zoning regulations. Revisions during the process cause delays and are often expensive. Educate yourself on the planning and zoning regulations and wetland regulations for the area in which you’d like to build. You can often find this information online or buy it at city hall.

Some towns have incredibly detailed self-storage regulations while others have the same regulations for self-storage and general commercial. Don’t forget that in addition to industry-specific guidelines there are many other general regulations that must be met by all commercial developments. Most new developers get in trouble by making many wrong assumptions because they were not aware of all the parameters.

The author at Caraquet Self Storage in Caraquet, New Brunswick, Canada.Here are just a few zoning regulations I’ve come across that can have a major impact on your facility’s design or approval. Anyone of these (and many others) can require substantially more land or money than originally anticipated, so be prepared.

  • No self-storage can be located within three miles of another storage facility.
  • The maximum property coverage of the storage buildings and pavement is 50 percent.
  • Self-storage can only be located in the industrial park zone.
  • Only one building is permitted on a single parcel.
  • No development or restricted development is permitted within 150 feet of the wetlands.
  • One parking space is required per 1,000 square feet of building.
  • Onsite drainage detention is required, which takes large areas of land to build.
  • Similarly, new developers often don’t conduct a review of the building codes and other self-storage standards before they start their design plans. This can lead to poor design or even significant redesigns. For example, here are three non-zoning codes that are often initially overlooked:
  • Some fire codes or building codes can overrule zoning codes for driveway widths, requiring 30 feet between buildings.
  • Building-code firewall requirements should also be reviewed prior to completing your site plan. Sometimes you can save money by eliminating expensive firewalls and limiting individual building sizes.
  • Building widths of 10 feet increments are more cost-efficient because there’s less waste.

Meet With City Staff

How you communicate and present your project will have a major impact on your zoning department’s support as well. Yes, it’s politics. Early in the process, you want to meet with the city planner and engineer to learn more about the regulations and start building a rapport with them. Specifically ask for recommendations they may have as you move forward.

After you have a conceptual plan, it’s time to meet with them again. Don’t wait until you’ve completed expensive site plans by your engineer only to find you’ve overlooked something buried deep in the regulations or unwritten guidelines or requirements.

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