While creating stricter zoning and design guidelines for self-storage developments isn’t anything new, many cities, towns and even counties have stepped up their efforts in recent months. Officials in Kokomo, Indiana, voted last month for tighter building restrictions. In Lexington, South Carolina, city council members have expressed their support of a zoning proposal that would limit storage to industrial zones.
In fact, in just four short months this year, moratoriums on self-storage development have been enacted in Benton, Arkansas; Cape Coral, Florida; Prince George’s County, Maryland; and Ravenna and Troy Ohio. And these are just the ones being reported by ISS and the broader media. There are likely many more places that have either passed new laws to limit self-storage or are considering them.
Obviously, this can pose a problem for a self-storage developer with a desire to build in these areas. While it’s simple to say, “find another place to build storage,” it isn’t an easy task. The truth is, it’s getting harder every day to find a sweet spot for storage construction. There are many reasons for this.
First, storage competes for available land with a variety of other development types including office and retail. Then there’s the rise in cost to even purchase these parcels. There are also plots that simply aren’t ideal for a storage development because of their shape or topography issues, or they have wetland restrictions … and the list goes on. So, when you find suitable land and self-storage falls within the accepted use, it’s a very good day. And these places are disappearing fast.
This has led many developers to seek conversion opportunities. There’s an abundance of vacant large buildings out there, but this development path comes with its own challenges, including zoning. James Reid, the founder of StorCo Storage, which has converted two buildings to self-storage, shares his advice on these kinds of projects in this video recorded at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo.
Whether building from the ground up or tackling a conversion project, your best course of action is to be informed. You must understand the area’s zoning and design standards. You should be familiar with the people who make these decisions, including members of the planning board and city council, but also the city staff, who can actually help or hinder your efforts.
You also need to be prepared to answer questions about your project. Even though self-storage has been around for decades, there are so many people who still have misconceptions about our industry. They still think the buildings will be ugly. They’re clueless about traffic to the site and the necessary number of parking spots a facility truly needs. So many people think self-storage attracts vagrants and crime, a common fallacy community members like to repeat. The list goes on, and you need to be ready to deflect all these negative notions if you hope to move your project forward.
If you’re an ISS subscriber (sign up), the June issue should be arriving in your mailbox or email this week. The edition is packed with insight on self-storage development and construction including how to overcome zoning challenges, finding land, budgeting your project, creating your dream team, facility design trends and so much more.
Of course, ISS has many more resources to guide your plans. We recently published the 2023 design image gallery, featuring more than 45 examples of great-looking property exteriors. Take a tour to find out how the look and feel of storage is changing. You might get ideas for your next project.
Another new resource can be found in the ISS Store. In addition to the many products readily available under the Construction/Development tab, you can also pre-order video from last month’s ISS World Expo. The Self-Storage Builder/Investor Essentials 2023 Education Video Package includes 21 seminars on a variety of development topics.
As a developer, you might walk into a meeting with city staff and they say, “We love self-storage! We can certainly get your project approved.” In reality, this is unlikely. Even if there aren’t zoning issue, you can still expect to battle with officials on dozens of other aspects of your development. They dream of shopping meccas, not storage. That doesn’t mean your proposal isn’t solid or self-storage isn’t needed. You just have to sell it!
While our industry is becoming viewed as retail rather than industrial in many circles, we’re not truly there yet. Until then, be prepared to counteract old arguments and stereotypes. Show them how your self-storage facility will provide a much-needed service in the community. Then wow them with a fantastic design.