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Arguments to Overcome Municipal Hurdles on Your Next Self-Storage Project

By Steve Hajewski Comments

Selecting the right land parcel for your self-storage development is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for the business. The problem is it isn’t always easy to find a visible location at the right price in a market with sufficient demand. Add in the hurdle of proper zoning, and some projects can seem downright impossible. In fact, if you identify a market with a great need for self-storage, there’s a very good chance the area doesn’t have properly zoned or suitable land available.

Due Diligence

Before searching for a specific parcel, research which areas allow for self-storage construction. Most cities will have a land-use or zoning map. Zero in on properly zoned areas first. Finding land that’s correctly zoned will save a great amount of time and expense. (Tip: If you find the right land but it’s not for sale, contact the owner anyway. You might be able to make a deal.) However, be aware that even if zoning allows for self-storage, some municipalities will still require a conditional-use permit before a building permit can be issued.

Once you’ve found land you’d like to buy, research local regulations to understand the process. This should be done before specifying timeframes and deadlines within your purchase offer. Start with the city or county website to educate yourself. If necessary, contact the city building, engineering or economic-development department.

Typically, zoning types include variations of commercial, industrial, agricultural and residential. Changing from residential to a use that allows self-storage isn’t usually feasible. With this in mind, research what kind of exemptions other developers have previously received. Minutes from previous meetings should be public record and may be available online. Some cities also make video of previous council or planning meetings available. Studying previous zoning-change requests can give you insight on what to expect.

The difficulty in dealing with planning committees can vary. For my own self-storage facility in Columbus, Wis., gaining permission to build was relatively simple but time-consuming. Although no group or city leader opposed my project, there was still a schedule of public notices for planning-commission and council meetings as well as a period for public comment. This process can take months even if it goes smoothly.

Addressing Concerns

A well-run storage business can be a great neighbor and an asset to the community, but members of councils and committees often have concerns and reservations. Before public meetings, contact officials involved with the process and listen to their worries. Speaking to them in advance will help guide your preparation. Let’s take a look at a few of the areas that often are sticking points when pursuing a project and how you can overcome them.

Curb Appeal
Concern: The facility will be an eyesore.
Answer: If your chosen area includes older self-storage facilities that aren’t well-kept, municipal leaders and residents may fear another project will be a blemish. Many don’t realize this isn’t the case with most new facilities.
     Professional landscaping is one of the most cost-effective ways to add curb appeal. Additionally, decorative fencing at the front of the property, an attractive sign, and upgraded façade materials applied to the office or end walls that face the main street are ways to enhance the appearance. While these features will add to your development cost, they’ll also help boost occupancy and rental rates.
     In extreme cases, some municipalities may ban or limit a specific material, such as metal. This can be a problem, since most self-storage buildings are primarily metal exteriors. Block exterior buildings are an alternative in such cases.

Concern: The facility will generate traffic problems.
Answer: While traffic studies aren’t available for the industry, most facilities experience very little road traffic. Observationally, it’s less than just about any other business. According to the national Self Storage Association, typical residential clients visit a storage unit once per month. We estimate commercial tenants visit once per week.

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