With today’s focus on “live, work, play”, mixed-use projects that include self-storage meet the growing demand for multi-use buildings. But while the concept sounds simple, the execution isn’t always easy. There are many considerations whether you are building self-storage and retail, or self-storage and multi-family residences, which appear to be the most commonly developed complexes. They include zoning, aesthetics, parking, and other unique requirements. To be accepted by the jurisdiction and the community, consider adapting the principles of the new town planning.
When self-storage began to move from commercial and industrial areas to Main Street, there was more emphasis on aesthetics and contextual fit in the design. For this we can be grateful, as some of the most interesting and attractive facilities in the industry have been built in the past three to five years. What drives this is an increased call for buildings and communities to “live, work, play”, both in urban and suburban settings.
At the forefront of the movement is “new town planning”, which is not really new. Dating from the 1980s and 1990s, it emphasizes several design and planning philosophies, including the intentional creation of a sense of community and the incorporation of green and sustainable building principles and practices. Here are 10 principles applied to a variety of projects, from individual buildings to entire communities, from newurbanism.org:
- Walkability: Most things within a 10 minute walk of home or work
- Connectivity: Interconnected road network
- The diversity: Mix of businesses, offices and homes
- Mixed housing: Range of types, sizes and prices
- Quality architecture (urban design): The emphasis is on aesthetics, creating a sense of belonging, the human scale
- Traditional neighborhood structure: Public space in the center
- Increased density: Create a more convenient and efficient use of services
- Green transport: Suitable for pedestrians, encourage the use of cycling, walking, etc.
- Durability: Energy-efficient and environmentally friendly technologies
- Quality of life: Places that enrich, uplift and inspire
For self-storage owners and developers looking to build where the municipality has adopted these standards, the process of getting approvals can be long, expensive and frustrating. You should expect the typical challenges of educating the community and, in some cases, town planning, zoning and architectural review committees on the nature of self-storage. Few people understand or accept that our business is a low impact land use and less demanding on community services such as water, sewage, landfill etc.
Additionally, expect to justify the business need for other real estate uses, the most common being retail and multi-family residences. These are likely to have different parking, density, open space and design requirements than the self-storage portion. Municipalities may require the project to meet high design standards for greenspace, landscaping, parking ratios (which may be excessive), use of community artwork, and criteria for residential design, including particular styles, volumes, colors and materials that will allow the project to fit in. rather than emphasizing its function.
Site design and compromise
The design of your facility can be one of the most demanding aspects of the mixed-use development process. Once again, I suggest that you take inspiration from the principles of the new town planning. While you may not have to apply them all, most municipalities want you to incorporate as many as possible, which sometimes conflicts with the purpose of the building. Common problem areas include colors, building profile, demarcation of functions and materials, and incorporation of open spaces.
In the accompanying image project, we wanted to highlight the logo and brand colors of the self-storage operator, but the town planning and zoning council opposed it because they have said it was too “bright”. We think the real objection was that this was a non-traditional design compared to the more muted Mediterranean colors used in neighboring residential communities.
The board of directors went so far as to oppose the materials we have chosen to strip the building. In keeping with modern architecture, we chose a panel with a metallic finish which was deemed inappropriate, despite being present in many commercial buildings across the city. Why this was good for retail but not for self-storage has never been fully explained to us. Yet the municipality had the upper hand and the power to approve or deny.
The front façade demarcation of a project should educate the user about the purpose of the building, but this message can be complicated when trying to serve a dual purpose. For example, the municipal authorities wanted us to avoid the views in the aisles of the self-storage. They also wanted us to showcase the commercial part of the project, although we wanted to showcase the self-storage units in showcases. The trade-off was to have views into the building that only showed the walls of the unit and no roll-up doors.
The selection of windows and exterior doors can also be problematic. For self-storage and retail, you usually want large glass doors. In this case, the city wanted us to use them, but also louvered windows, in complete contrast to the nature of retail. and self-storage. We won this battle and left the shutters for another project and another day.
Integrating open spaces – a key tenet of new urban planning – can be difficult, but it’s also an opportunity to engage customers in non-traditional ways and foster a sense of community. In our case, we added an outdoor dining area to accommodate a potential restaurant and an outdoor pedestrian plaza that would allow people to stop and relax. It will be lavishly and beautifully landscaped with bike racks and public art, a sure way to turn objections about self-storage into positives. Obviously this has reduced the buildable area and added costs to the project, but we believe these items will pay dividends in the end.
The real lesson learned is to stick to your guns and decide what things you need to have and what you can do without, so that you can find compromises if necessary.
Third party assistance
When building a mixed-use project, expect to pay for additional consultants on issues such as traffic, restaurant, and cooking, as well as signage and logo marketing. You may also need to do a separate feasibility study for the retail component. Make sure your retail consultant has a clear understanding of how the two goals will work together to create synergies and hopefully increase profitability. They will help you integrate the elements of use into a unique design and business plan.
We have also found it beneficial to hire a team of experienced real estate lobbyists to advocate for your interests. They will be familiar with the hot buttons and the voting history of the various approval committees and walk you through the process. They are also a great resource for identifying vendors and vendors.
To build a successful mixed-use project that includes self-storage and other uses, such as retail, start with a clear understanding of your customers, your requirements, and the region. Build and leverage relationships within the community and municipality. Bring in experts to complement your own experiences and capabilities and test the feasibility and funding of the project throughout the process. Things are changing and so should you. At the end of the day, try to be a good community partner and a good resource. Good luck!
Josephine Hart is a Managing Partner at Storage Development Partners LLC, with offices in Boca Raton, Florida, and Des Moines, Iowa. Previously, she was CEO of National Land Partners LLC, one of the nation’s largest buyers and sellers of recreational land and an executive at IBM. She has acted as an advisor to several startups and made start-up investments in the manufacturing, healthcare, technology and hospitality sectors. For more information, call 770.880.5309 (cell), 561.247.4545 (office); E-mail [email protected]; visit www.storagepartners.us.