A self-storage owner is facing opposition from city planning staff to build a $6 million office park that will include storage in East Topeka, Kans. Frank Meade, owner of Aeolian Mini-Warehouse & Storage, is seeking a zoning change to build 16,000 square feet of office space and 500 storage units on a 10.7-acre plot at the northeast corner of S.E. 29th Street and Wittenberg Road. Currently zoned residential, the site is near the foot of the dam for Lake Shawnee, an 1,100-acre recreation area.
In an Aug. 11 report, the city planners said they would advise the planning commission to reject Meade’s request during its Aug. 21 meeting, according to the source. The report stated the proposal “is not compatible with the general character of the neighborhood and threatens to degrade the value of Lake Shawnee as a recreation destination enjoyed by many city and county residents.”
Meade has asked the commission to delay voting on the project for a month to allow him to address some of the staff’s concerns, such as the storage facility’s size, the potential loss of area vegetation and the aesthetic of the office buildings. He’s working with Landplan Engineering PA to create an attractive façade for the storage structures, which would be north of the four office buildings. “We’re actually putting windows and rock columns in. We’ve gone to extremes to make the storage buildings not look like self-storage,” said Meade, who’s been working on the proposal for about six months.
The storage facility would offer traditional storage, vehicle storage and 174 climate-controlled units powered by Lennox solar-powered air-conditioning systems. “We’re going to be using the new, ultra-thin solar film on the roofs. You won’t see big panels sitting there. We’re going to try to come close to generating all the electricity,” Meade said.
Revenue from the storage units is expected to support the financial investment needed to build the office park, which is set up as a planned unit development. “It’s unrealistic that we can pay for these projects with the offices,” Meade said. “We have to get a lot of people in; the buildings are very expensive to build. They’re not high-return items. The storage, in essence, is the engine that we hope keeps this thing alive.”
The front of the complex facing 29th Street would include a series of office buildings. Phase one would feature a 4,000-squre-foot building, with up to three structures added as needed. Housing could eventually be developed on the back of the lot where the terrain is rough, Meade said.
The plans include leaving many of the area’s trees intact a well as accommodating the expected widening of 29th Street to five lanes. Initially, the entrance to the site was off Wittenberg. The street widening would allow the buildings along the front of the park to be used for retail or restaurants, Meade added.
“We’re taking a big risk. But we will never know if East Topeka’s going to grow or not until somebody does this,” said Meade, who has lived in the area all his life and owned commercial printing firm Zercher Photo, a 112-year-old business, for 22 years until its closing in 2012.
“I can’t guarantee people are going to come there,” he added. “I can’t make them come there, but we won’t know and we won’t have a chance to develop on the east side of Topeka unless we have this kind of stuff available.”
Aeolian Mini-Warehouse & Storage operates five facilities in Auburn, Lawrence and Topeka, Kans. Three of the properties offer vehicle storage.