Whether you’re buying, designing or building a self-storage facility, landscaping probably isn’t your top priority. However, it’s important to consider the impact it can have on a project—and not just for marketability or curb appeal. To be successful and maximize facility value, your landscape plan must address a variety of factors including location and context, zoning and land-use regulations, security, maintenance, and creativity.
Location and Context
Self-storage facilities, no longer confined to highway commercial areas, have become more popular on “Main Street” and in urban areas closer to the consumer. One of the largest factors to consider with landscape design is where the facility is located, and the perceived necessity for landscaping in that region.
A facility in an urban location will likely have less landscaping but use architectural elements such as screening walls, decorative fencing or the building itself to shield the operation. Landscaping in these cases will be provided adjacent to sidewalks or walkable street frontages, and may include deciduous street trees and limited herbaceous and perennial plants to complement integrated pedestrian areas or civic plazas.
Rural and suburban locations have a different context and needs. These facilities will have larger lawn areas and evergreen trees to buffer undesired views of the facility from adjacent properties and roadways. Low-maintenance ornamental flowering shrubs as well as herbaceous plants (perennials and annuals) will be limited to building and vehicular entrances to provide seasonal interest for patrons and visitors.
Zoning and Land Use
Whether you’re developing a new facility or enhancing the curb appeal of an existing one, zoning and land-use regulations applicable to landscaping, lighting, fencing and buffering will have a significant impact on your site. You may think landscaping is the last item to address on your checklist when developing or expanding, but this needs to be one of the first items to review. Municipal and county regulations for “landscaping” will often address:
- Buffer areas and yard requirements (and if buffers can be provided within yard areas)
- Dimensional setbacks of outdoor storage areas from adjacent properties and roadways
- Minimum “green” areas within the facility or even parking areas
- Diversity of plant species including evergreen and deciduous vegetation
- Height, spacing, locations and quantities of landscape material
- Dimensional setbacks of vegetation to adjacent streets
- Buffer regulations from environmental features such as streams, floodplains and wetlands
- Requirements to preserve or replace existing vegetation
Municipal and county regulations often provide a list of approved plant species that must be used in the landscape design. With a limited palette in which to work, understanding the ideal growing conditions for each species is vital in reducing future maintenance costs and developing a successful landscape plan.
While the requirements applicable to the height of landscape material may not impact the site design, the dimensional requirements for buffer yards certainly will. Development regulations are often perceived to restrict building potential and impose non-essential conditions; however, it’s important to work with a qualified team of professionals early in the design process to maximize the utilization of the site.
A common challenge with self-storage facilities is how to address a municipality’s requirements for landscape buffers and screening while maintaining visibility from the adjacent roadway for site marketability and security. A successful compromise can be achieved via earthen berms, fencing, lighting, and plant selection and location.
Landscape berms with varying heights and plant species can be incorporated to limit potentially undesirable views into the site from certain areas while focusing and maintaining marketable views from other locations. Supplementing berms with canopy trees along a public street can be used to filter and focus views of the facility without obscuring visibility.
Substituting landscaping for ornamental fencing adjacent to roadways and public areas is a primary consideration to maintain visibility and security. While fencing certainly requires a larger capital expenditure, the reduction in landscaping provides an initial cost savings and long-term savings in reduced landscape maintenance.
Exterior lighting can be a highly regulated but important security consideration. Implementing new technology will maximize energy efficiency and provide enhanced photo controls such as motion sensors, dimming and coloration to reduce negative impacts on adjacent properties while maintaining a secure facility.
With plants and landscaping, maintenance is always a necessity. Specifying the appropriate plant species for an area is critical in reducing ongoing costs after the initial installation. Drought-tolerant species indigenous to the local climate generally require less maintenance and are preferred for their ability to thrive in difficult conditions with little irrigation. Native plants—those found naturally in a geographic area—are well-adapted to local conditions and more likely to succeed than species introduced from other areas or climates.
It’s also important to consider the location of the landscaping. In coastal areas and colder climates, salt spray and winter salting for ice control can have a significant impact on the health and longevity of certain plant material. Areas adjacent to streets and driveways should be planted with salt-tolerant species, and delicate or ornamental woody plants should be planted clear of any snow-plowing or -storage areas that will damage them, resulting in heavy pruning or replacement costs each spring.
Bark or root mulch is the typical low-cost alternative for dressing landscape beds. Replacing mulch with river stone or decorative gravel can be used to add color and interest to the landscape. In addition to the aesthetic appearance, gravel can provide a beneficial, practical application to address areas subjected to heavy water flow or turning areas that are routinely damaged by large trucks or trailers.
A landscape architect’s goal is to design a successful plan that provides value to the property, visual interest to visitors and patrons, and environmental benefits and sustainability to the region. Consider out-of-the box thinking to develop a creative plan, or implement a few of the following basics:
Seasonal interest. Include a diversity of species to provide varying flowering periods and foliage coloration. A well-developed plan will provide visual interest throughout the year and reduce seasonal maintenance.
Problem areas. Storm-water basins, swales and steep slopes can be problematic for routine mowing and upkeep. Consider a sustainable, ecological solution for these areas by planting a naturalized seed mix with native wildflowers and grasses. Once established, they require little maintenance and provide year-round interest.
Natural materials. Use what’s available and natural to the area. If you have a site heavily encumbered with rock from site excavation, incorporate the slag and boulders into the design. In coastal areas, provide large swaths of beach grasses. On redeveloped sites, even the remains of recycled concrete sidewalks can be used to make attractive garden walls.
The importance of landscaping is often overlooked in the self-storage industry and is a last consideration for most projects; however, creating a well-designed plan early in the development process will not only provide value to the facility but to the surrounding area. For new construction or redevelopment projects, producing a detailed landscape plan during the municipal or county review process can have a positive impact on approval and permitting, as it demonstrates a vested interest in the community. Implementing improvements to your existing facility can provide a modern look and eliminate unsightly problem areas while attracting positive attention.
Whether you’re building a new facility or renovating an existing one, a professionally designed landscape plan will reduce ongoing maintenance costs, increase property value and improve site marketability.
Brian E. Seidel, president of Seidel Planning & Design Ltd., is a landscape architect and land-use planner. Since 2005, his firm has specialized in landscape design, land-use planning and land-development consulting for the self-storage industry as well as residential, industrial, retail and commercial industries. For more information, call 610.323.8752; visit www.seidelplanning.com.