Augusta, Maine, city officials are considering whether to allow new self-storage development in two zoning districts. Though there isn’t yet a proposal for either area, the move would enable vacant retail buildings in the Civic Center District and Regional Business District to be converted to storage as a conditional use, according to the source. Indoor self-storage, which isn’t addressed in the city’s current zoning, would also be allowed.
“This is something that has come up a number of times in the past few years, with respect to some of the larger retail locations that are having trouble being filled,” Matt Nazar, development director, recently told city councilmembers. “And one of the potential uses for a portion of those existing retail spaces is for indoor self-storage units; basically, cutting some of those spaces up into individual self-storage spaces. It may end up providing some level of use in some of these commercial facilities that couldn’t, potentially, get used in another way.”
Planning-board members have expressed concern about attracting new retailers to these empty spaces, particularly a former Sears store, which shuttered in 2017 at Turnpike Mall. Leasing tends to restrict the sites to retail use, Nazar said. He suggested buildings like this could be converted to a mixed-use structure with retail in the front and storage in the back.
Roger Pomerleau, a partner and developer of Marketplace at Augusta, said the approach would add flexibility for these buildings. “It’s good to keep all properties viable. And that might fill some unusual spaces, with retail in the front,” he said. “When an opportunity comes along, when a business needs space, they need it quickly. So, it’s good to be proactive and offer maximum flexibility.”
The conditional-use designation would allow the city to prevent an influx of new self-storage businesses to the area and retain some control over building appearances, Nazar said. Community members would also be allowed to comment on any proposals brought to the council.
Not all councilmembers are in agreement with the plan. They questioned whether the business type, which generates little foot traffic, would detract from the economic vitality of the shopping areas. One also suggested the city should explore whether these empty spaces could be repurposed for housing. “We have a housing crisis, and I’m feeling protective of these large buildings as a possible opportunity for addressing the housing crisis and creating economic development in those malls,” said councilmember Courtney Allen.
In their leases, most shopping centers prohibit the space being used for housing, Nazar said.
The council agreed to allow city staff to conduct market research and create an economic-impact analysis. Once complete, they’ll discuss the findings and decide if they’d like to move forward with the rezoning.
Central Maine, Augusta Considers Self-Storage Businesses for Vacant Retail Spaces