Multi-Story Storage: Building 'Up' Allows a Washington Developer to Maximize Land and Highlight Upscale Elements

When the Gilroy family set out to build their third self-storage facility in Washington, a residential design in multiple stories coupled with high-end features allowed them to make the most of a smaller building footprint. The developers faced restrictive site conditions as well as design and zoning challenges, but persevered to create a characteristic addition to an already busy market.

July 29, 2011

9 Min Read
Multi-Story Storage: Building 'Up' Allows a Washington Developer to Maximize Land and Highlight Upscale Elements

By Greg Moore

When the Gilroy family set out to build their third self-storage facility in Washington, a residential design in multiple stories coupled with high-end features allowed them to make the most of a smaller building footprint. The developers faced restrictive site conditions as well as design and zoning challenges, but persevered to create a characteristic addition to an already busy market.

The Gilroys chose the site for Stor-House Self Storage & Wine Storage, their first multi-story facility, because of its proximity to downtown Bellevue, an affluent Seattle suburb. Through the years, the Gilroys witnessed the citys growth firsthand, and capitalized on it by opening single-story in-fill projects surrounded by residential neighborhoods. This was a major facet of the familys branding process, leading to an overall design concept thats residential in nature.

When the right property came up for sale, adjacent and visible to1-405 and less than half a mile from a downtown off-ramp, the family purchased it right away. The 2.29-acre parcel was zoned light industrial and located within a Transition Area Overlay District.

The feasibility study found six other storage facilities in the immediate market, four of which are owned and operated by Public Storage. All told, the competition had 4,181 units between them and was maintaining occupancies of more than 90 percent. The study showed the market could bear another an additional 90,000 net square feet of storage.

Due to restrictive site conditions, careful consideration was made to maximize the building size and minimize construction costs. The development team designed a building footprint of 39,640 gross square feet that would reach four stories. The project would ultimately contain 120,980 square feet and 735 climate-controlled self-storage units.

After examining geo reports and building loads, it was decided the building had to be split into two sections. The south portion became a three-story building with a basement, as described by building codes and sloping grades. The north portion became a two-story building with a mezzanine. This actually facilitated the construction sequencing, as the contractor was able to maneuver equipment and materials in an ordered manner throughout the construction phase.

Preliminary Design, Zoning and Pre-Development

When the Gilroys purchased the property in June 2006, it was vacant. It also came with permits to construct a 140,000-square-foot office building with underground parking, but the Gilroys had other plans. In September 2007, they used the already-permitted plans to grade and clear the site. Pre-loading was necessary to prepare for the self-storage construction.

More than 3,000 cubic yards of material was dug out of the hillside along the south edge of the property and placed throughout the northern portions of the site for surcharge purposes. The development was also affected by two sensitive areas: steep slopes of approximately 35 percent to 40 percent throughout the south and southeast parts, and wetlands on the state-owned property to the north of the site.

The steep slope and wetland areas remained largely undisturbed, but each carried a building setback imposed by the city75 feet in the case of the steep slopes, and 60 feet for the wetlands. Since the steep-slope buffer was very low in quality due to the activities of the previous property owner, a storage yard for a construction company, the Gilroys negotiated with the city to build a retaining wall that would allow the building to be closer to the slope.

In the case of the wetlands, the Gilroys elected to restore and enhance the buffer, which had become overgrown with blackberry and other noxious weeds, with native plantings. The family was not required to this, but thought it would add to the overall street appeal.

Due to its proximity to residentially zoned property on two sides, the project was limited in terms of height and appearance. The Gilroys had to complete a nine-month design-review process, during which every item of site planning and construction design was highly scrutinized by city planners. Thanks to the residential nature of their branded style, the project was approved with few changes and in a relatively short time. They received the green light to move to construction submittal in December 2008.

Construction Begins

Permits were released by the city in August 2009 and construction began in earnest. First, a soldier-pile retaining wall was constructed at the south end of the site to complete site grading. Complicating matters, the state of Washington had just completed a multi­million-dollar expansion of 1-405 that included a massive retaining wall immediately adjacent to the project's east property line. This necessitated driving the piles for the storage retaining wall 30 feet deeper than normal, adding more than $50,000 to the project. The poor, peat-laden soils with high-water content required 79 geopiers, or underground borings filled with rock, to support the monolithic 10-inch slab-on-grade foundation for the four-story part of the building.

Soon after construction began, the rainy season hit and the water-saturated soils on the site continued to pose a problem. Three wells were installed around the property, pumping out thousands of gallons of ground water just to keep the foundation walls dry. To fight future water intrusion, underground foundation walls were treated with an elastomeric coating and covered with drain tile before being backfilled with 100 percent free-draining rock by the site work contractor.

Since the building was so large, staging area was at a premium, which forced the general contractor to carefully phase the construction between the north and south halves of the building. This way, each contractor had space to work without stumbling over or holding up another trade.

Exterior Design

When the Gilroys entered the self-storage industry a decade ago, the goal was to create a brand with features typical of residential architecture, and this new facility is no exception. First, the building was made to appear less massive by breaking it up into two- and four-story segments. Next, the facade along the frontage was divided into modulating segments, each of which ranges from 30 feet to 80 feet long and approximately 10 feet deep. Each facade also features three recesses in the block, painted green to emulate the appearance of metal roll-up doors.

The exterior of the building consists of a primarily split-face scored and smooth-faced concrete modular block (CMU), with some vertical-ribbed metal siding. The CMU was painted to contrast the the metal siding. Along the west and east faces of the building, theres an alternation between smooth and broken-face CMU and emerald-green siding. The Gilroys chose to apply a more expensive, emerald-green standing-seam metal roof to the two- and four-story building segments, as well as the two towers. This presents a polished appearance from I-405, from which the roof is visible.

A 40-foot-by-50-foot covered loading bay was designed for the center of the building, immediately adjacent to the main lobby. There are four elevators: two in the main lobby, one at the south end of the site adjacent to a second, smaller loading area, and one that exclusively serves the wine-storage area.

Interior Design

Inside, bright, wide hallways welcome customers, while music plays on overhead hallway speakers. Extra-wide, white soffit panels pick up much of the light from each fixture and reflect it downward, and white doors reflect even more light to make the hallways brighter and eliminate dark corners.

With such a monochromatic scheme, the Gilroys anticipated customers might easily get lost among the many hallways. They installed color-coded metal strips to the header and sides of each unit to help customers navigate the floors.  Each tenant receives an access-card holder that corresponds with the color of his section.

An interior designer created a free-span office layout featuring finished materials. The area behind the front desk showcases advanced security features, including eight 27-inch LCD screens playing back images from 49 security cameras in and around the building. The desk features two manager workstations. Theres a slat-walled retail area on either side of the desk.

Wine Storage

When the Gilroys began looking for ways to diversify their facilitys revenue stream without straying too far from the core business, they turned their focus toward wine storage. A review of the immediate market showed the four existing wine-storage facilities in the greater Seattle area were virtually full. The higher-end demographics of Bellevue seemed a perfect match for such a venture.

Wine Storage Bellevue occupies 8,000 square feet of the new four-story, $7.5 million facility. A special area of the second floor sets the wine storage apart, combining elements of wine culture with security expertise. All-steel lockers with steel latches and bezel cylinder locks were chosen over the plywood and padlocks used by competitors. After extensive research, the Gilroys created 418 lockers ranging in capacity from 10 to 200 cases. At full capacity, more than 19,000 cases of wine can be stored on the site.

The wine storage is temperature- and humidity-controlled, and maintains a fairly constant temperature of 55 degrees and 65 percent relative humidity. The settings are recorded via a monitoring device connected to the Internet. The sensors also alert the manager via e-mail if the room deviates from the designated settings. Oenophiles enter the wine-storage area through a custom, hand-carved door of deep mahogany and proceed to the dedicated elevator operated by keycard.

Perhaps even more significant than the wine-storage area is the wine-resource center. Its a 1,000-square-foot, Tuscan-inspired oasis where customers can hold small, private tasting events or wine-club meetings, or simply share a favorite wine with a fellow connoisseur. It features custom leather and wood furnishings, custom stonework, old-world-style plaster walls, and custom woodwork.

In June 2010, the Gilroys opened Stor-House as a reflection of their deep commitment too their business and the community they serve. Despite development and construction challenges, they believe their residential design, combined with exceptional features, will elevate their first multi-story development in the marketplace.

Greg Moore is principal of Moore Design Associates, formed in 2002 to specialize in self-storage design services. Moore has several years of design experience including high-rise office buildings, retail design and planning, multi-family housing, and institutional design. To reach him, e-mail [email protected] .

Stor-House Project Team

Owner: Gilroy Family Bellevue LLC

Architect: Peter Schroeder, Peter Schroeder Architects

General contractor: Northward Construction

Structural engineering: B&T Design and Engineering Inc. 

Landscape architect: Moore Design Associates

Civil engineer: J3ME

Storage consultant: Moore Design and Associates

Doors and hallway systems: Janus International

Building systems: Kiwi II Construction

Office design: LG Interiors

Security installation: Access Systems Plus

Landscape: Holly Moore Landscape Architecture

Site-work contractor: RPD Construction

Concrete slabs and decks: A&S Development

Masonry: Allied Masonry         

Site work contractor: RPD Construction

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