Self-Storage Zoning Process: Getting Approval for Your Steel Building Project

Published August 16, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

 steel self-storage zoning

Zoning for metal self-storage facilities is rarely straightforward, so it pays to prepare and prepare some more. Self-storage doesn't fit neatly into most zoning boxes.

The main issue is one of perception. Self-storage used to be permitted only in warehouse or industrial zones away from the town center or residential communities. Now your customers want convenience, meaning they want self-storage close by so they can visit their stuff easily.


Unfortunately, zoning laws have not kept up with the change in need, and the perception of self-storage as “ugly” is still around. After you have done your own homework to determine local zoning ordinances and permitting, you may need to educate others about the realities of modern self-storage.

The zoning process for steel self-storage

Zoning laws and regulations provide an orderly process for the development and use of land within a particular jurisdiction. They ensure land is used for the common good. Most zoning laws divide a municipality’s land into a variety of categories, for example:

  • Residential
  • Commercial
  • Industrial
  • Agricultural
  • Recreational

Often, self-storage does not fit neatly into one of these categories, and you will have to ask for a conditional permit or rezoning of the area.

  • Permitted use: also called land use by right, permitted use of a parcel requires no public hearings and no politics. Just comply with the standard and all is well. Obey setbacks, landscape requirements, building coverage limitations, and other regulations.
  • Conditional use: A conditional use permit is subject to the circumstances the governing agency imposes on your project for impact mitigation. It requires public hearings, presentations, and politics.
  • Design review: A design review may be required for a permitted land use if the jurisdictional agencies want some control over the facility design. Primary interest is in the architectural compatibility with surrounding properties, landscaping, and colors.

For a conditional use permit, you must file an application and a set of design drawings with the governing agency for approval.

  • The design drawings are evaluated by the planning staff. A report is written and forwarded to the planning commission.
  • The planning commission holds public hearings for public comment and to hear the presentation.
  • The planning commission votes your project up or down.

For the best results, consult the community around your proposed development site before you ask for a conditional use permit. Be thorough with your design drawings and plan. Also, remain professional when presenting to the planning commission.

Politics generally plays a major role in granting a conditional use permit. It has as much impact on the approval of your project as the architecture, aesthetics, hours of operation, and overall design.


Rezoning requests

The local regulations may not allow for a permitted use or conditional use permit. Instead, your project must be slotted into an existing zoning category. Most of the time, self-storage will not neatly fit here either, and you must request a change of zoning.

Rezoning requests turn on public and governmental approval; it's more difficult and time-consuming than a conditional use permit application. You can help your case immensely if you emphasize the positive attributes of steel mini warehouse facilities:

  • Self-storage facilities generate little traffic or crime. There are few employees, and there are no crowds of customers.
  • Many are closed at night with limited access. There is little noise during peak hours and almost none at night.
  • Self-storage projects often bring enhanced security with them.
  • Most facilities have noise-reducing elements such as acoustical buffering from major roadways.

Zoning regulations for metal building projects are not always straightforward, and you should be aware of them before you purchase any land or hire an architect.

Examples of zoning regulations.

  • “No self-storage facility can be located within three miles of another storage facility.”
  • “Maximum property coverage of storage facilities and pavement is 50%.”
  • “Self-storage is only permitted in an industrial zone.”
  • “On-site drainage detention is required.”

Schedule a meeting with local zoning officials, visit the city website, and learn which department oversees zoning within the municipality where your land is located. You will also want to meet with city planners to get feedback on your proposal, which will give you a chance to educate them about the realities of self-storage and combat the negative perceptions surrounding it.

storage facility zoning

Gaining approval for your self-storage project

To get approval for your project, you need a well-developed site plan with a basic architectural rendering. Have the answers ready for questions about hours of operation, light pollution, traffic issues, and buffer yards.

Do your homework. If you have no experience in land use zoning and seeking approvals, hire a zoning attorney to help you make your case to the various interest groups including home owner associations, the planning commission, and the elected municipal leaders.

Put together a team including:

  • An architect
  • A traffic engineer
  • A landscape designer
  • A civil engineer
  • An attorney

Start your community outreach to battle the NIMBY Effect (Not in My Back Yard). If the people in the area do not want a self-storage development for a neighbor, they can delay or prevent your project approval. An even better course of action would be to approach a community before you purchase the land and learn what is needed in the area and what they will accept regarding commercial, retail, or industrial development.

Make the presentation to the development review committee and be prepared to make a presentation of your project at a public hearing. Once the public hearing is complete and all questions have been answered, you need to get approval from the review committee and the city council.

Self-storage is more in the mainstream now than ever before. People have more stuff, and they want to keep it at a convenient location. Small businesses are proliferating that don’t have the need for a warehouse but do need storage for merchandise or records. Nobody wants to drive to the middle of nowhere to visit a self-storage unit.

Until zoning committees and city councils catch up with the new reality of self-storage, you need to clearly communicate the positive aspects of self-storage and rebut old perceptions of ugly, crime-ridden areas that pull down property values.

Put a great team together, prepare thoroughly, be professional, and hang tough to get the approvals you need.



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