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Federal Way, WA, Officials Impose 1-Year Moratorium on Self-Storage Development


The Federal Way, Wash., City Council passed an ordinance on Tuesday that imposes a one-year moratorium on any new self-storage development, including expansion of existing facilities. The move was prompted by a recommendation from city staff, which noted an unusual increase in self-storage project submissions during the last 10 months, with 10 applications or pre-applications filed since last November. The council approved the ban to allow planners to investigate the issue, according to the source.

Of the applications already in the pipeline, four are considered “vested” and will be allowed to proceed through the building and zoning process. Five proposals still in the pre-application stage will have to wait at least a year to be considered, the source reported.

Federal Way already has nine operating storage facilities comprising 4,731 units. The four vested projects are expected to add 3,700 more units, which is 78 percent of the current supply. “We don’t really know why this is happening,” planning manager Robert “Doc” Hansen, told the council, referring to the increase in applications.

Hansen indicated the city previously viewed self-storage facilities as temporary “place-holders” that would allow property owners to profit from the land before being replaced with a better long-term use. He noted in his presentation that modern storage developments are “higher end” compared to older projects and designed to be a more permanent business use.

Hansen also noted that recent proposals intended to develop self-storage in business-commercial and neighborhood-business zones, which are typically reserved for retail and business projects.

Community development director Brian Davis speculated the city had received an uptick in potential projects because Federal Way has historically provided an easy path for storage developers. One potential outcome from the moratorium could be to implement a more rigorous evaluation and approval process that factors the compatibility of self-storage within targeted zoning areas and neighborhoods, he told the council.

Based on the number of applications the city has received, the ratio of storage units to houses would have grown from one unit per eight houses to one for every three, Hansen said. As part of their study, planners will investigate physical occupancy at existing storage facilities in the city, market demand within Federal Way, and whether facilities are servicing local residents or a larger market. Federal Way is part of the Seattle metropolitan area, situated south of Seattle and northeast of Tacoma.

Planners will also review self-storage development activity in other municipalities and examine how those cities process and review project applications. “We’re not trying to get rid of self-storage units,” Hansen told the council. “We’re trying to see how they fit in within the community.”

Several cities across the nation have enacted similar moratoriums to curb increases in self-storage development. Other incidents in Washington include a six-month ban passed last month in Poulsbo and a previous six-month moratorium in Shoreline, according to the source.

Susan Honda was the lone dissenting vote on the moratorium, though she supported a six-month ban, the source reported.

A public hearing on the temporary ban is scheduled for Oct. 17.


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