Trends in zoning regulations and political attitudes toward self-storage seem to be shifting. Historically, many cities forced storage into industrial areas. Over the last several years, however, there’s been a more relaxed approach, allowing projects onto commercially zoned property. Now, a growing desire for more pedestrian-oriented developments in those areas may be incompatible with the self-storage use. In addition, recent legislation and moratoriums in states including Colorado, Florida, New York and Washington are creating additional barriers to storage development.
Fortunately, facility owners and developers can renew their strategic approach with local governments and neighbors who may oppose storage uses. By paying attention to zoning-code interpretation, design and education, they can successfully navigate the maze of challenges and deliver new facilities to the market.
Examine the Codes
As the saying goes, “The devil is in the details,” and the adage certainly fits when reviewing zoning codes. Calling the planning department to inquire whether self-storage is allowed will frequently result in a negative response; and a cursory review of a use chart may prove fruitless. Yet you can still explore the regulations to see whether they might be interpreted to allow the use. If a city has a mixed-use zoning, it’s worth investigating to see if the addition of a small, sidewalk-oriented retail space or office can create the mix of uses that satisfies the code requirements. It’s a step developers often overlook.
In addition, elected officials are sometimes open to changing the code to allow self-storage, with stipulations on size, interior access and other elements to prevent that outdoor warehouse-style most people associate with these facilities. Land-use attorneys who have relationships with planning staff can be a valuable resource for making connections, analyzing the code and providing insight.
By looking into the codes and thinking outside the box, you might determine self-storage is actually authorized when at first glance it didn’t seem likely. Being creative with code interpretations and proactive with your approach will, at a minimum, set the stage for a discussion and move the project one step closer to realization.
“A picture is worth a thousand words” isn’t just an idiom; it can be the key to changing the perceptions of planning staff, elected officials and neighbors. One of the often-overlooked benefits of self-storage is the flexibility in exterior design. Developers who are willing to design a building that reflects the desired aesthetics of a neighborhood may have more luck with approvals. It’s not uncommon to meet with a planning director who has a negative opinion of storage—until he sees the pictures. Recent projects have embraced modern design and adopted an architectural style that’s substantially like popular and successful mixed-use developments.
A focus on style shows the developer is interested in partnering with the community and adopting the vision residents and officials have for the area. Those outside the industry spare little if any thought for the many design types that can be employed for a storage building or the fact that it can be designed to fit any community. Exploring a more upscale design, and demonstrating that vision through pictures, is an extremely useful tool getting zoning approval.
Educate Your Audience
It’s essential to acknowledge that most elected officials, planning directors and neighbors know little about the business. A warehouse with drive-up access is what most people think of when storage is mentioned. Using that as a starting point, create an education strategy that addresses the benefits of self-storage over other commercial or retail uses. For example, traffic congestion ranks high among complaints from residents in growing markets, so the low volume of trips per day generated by a storage facility can be particularly appealing in those areas.
To maximize your potential for changing opinions and gaining support, it’s vital to edify government officials and other neighborhood stakeholders. Engaging and educating increases your chances of success.
The emphasis on pedestrian-oriented development isn’t a passing whim but a shift in the way people live. Finding creative approaches to zoning approval will likely continue to be a challenge for self-storage. By delving into the code, being flexible with design, and engaging and educating officials and neighbors, self-storage will continue to grow in desired markets.
Julie Sellers is a partner at law firm Pursley Friese Torgrimson in Atlanta. Her practice focuses on advocating zoning and land-use requests for property owners, builders and developers. For more information, call 404.876.4880; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.pftlegal.com.