Ridgefield, Battle Ground taking a closer look at self-storage facilities

As more people — and their stuff — move into communities, best use of land is at issue

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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As more people move to Clark County’s small cities, they’re inevitably going to need somewhere to put their stuff.

For some, that means moving to a place with some storage options, such as a basement or a shed. For others, they look to put items in storage.

City officials in Ridgefield and Battle Ground recently started looking at storage facilities to try and determine just how many their respective cities could use and where exactly to put them.

“One of the concerns expressed by our city council was the extremely low number of jobs per acre provided by those facilities,” said Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart. “It’s high-value employment land being used for low jobs per facility.”

Ridgefield has two storage facilities under construction currently: a 76,000-square-foot facility on 3.87 acres at the corner of South 11th Street and South Timm Road, and a 40,852-square-foot facility on 3.3 acres of land at the corner of South Union Ridge Parkway and South 10th Street. There are also two other storage projects in the pre-application phase and other potential developers have reached out to the city.

City councilors passed an emergency six-month moratorium in June to not allow for the acceptance, processing or approval of any new self-storage facilities.

“One of the comments that council received in support of these types of facilities is with all these people moving into Ridgefield, they need places to store their stuff that can’t fit in a garage,” Stuart said. “The councilors have questions about when the need will be met. How many of them do we actually need for Ridgefield?”

Battle Ground city officials haven’t taken any action on storage facilities yet, but have started talking about where they should go in the city and plan to address it next year during yearly city code updates. Both cities have similar concerns with allowing storage facilities in certain areas, specifically in areas zoned for commercial or industrial use.

“(The facilities are) not providing a lot of jobs,” Erin Erdman, community development director for Battle Ground. “It’s not providing a lot of revenue. It’s property tax value only. We’re not making sales tax revenue out of the facility.”

Currently, it’s not clearly defined in Battle Ground what kind of zoning allows for the facilities. Erdman said the city has fielded a few calls in recent months from developers interested in bringing storage facilities to Battle Ground. There could be a few reasons for that, such as increased rent in Vancouver pushing businesses, and people, outward. Erdman also said that “increased density on smaller lots makes a bigger need for these types of facilities,” and that she thinks there’s a need for these types of facilities in Battle Ground.

The issue is city officials don’t want to eat up commercial space for these types of businesses.

Ridgefield officials are facing a similar conundrum, as Stuart said the city’s rapid growth has created a demand for storage options. Stuart said the facilities aren’t defined in Ridgefield code either, so they can go in an employment zone.

City staffers in Ridgefield put together a report for councilors on the storage unit issue while they were discussing the moratorium. According to the report, Ridgefield has approximately 887.8 acres of vacant land in its employment zoning. The city aims for nine jobs per net acre in such zones. The city has about 448.6 acres of vacant land in commercial zoning, where city officials hope for 20 jobs per net acre, and roughly 14.4 acres of vacant land in mixed-use zoning, where the goal is also to get 20 jobs per net acre.

According to a report from the Self Storage Association based on 2015 numbers, storage facilities employ an average of 3.5 workers per facility.

Storage facility business

Ben Bradley, who co-owns Get Space, said city officials aren’t always the biggest fans of storage facilities.

“They think of the trashy tin sheds they have been historically,” Bradley said. “As they see what new facilities look like, they’re softening up on them. They do look good. Cities will say they don’t serve a purpose or provide jobs. They fill a need.”

Get Space has one location in Vancouver at 106 Northwest 139th Street and another under construction at 6907 Northeast Ward Road, which is expected to open later this year. Get Space, which has a local office in Washougal, also has locations in Portland and a few other Oregon cities. Bradley said the company isn’t looking to move outward into Clark County based on their company strategy.

“There’s a lot of safety in numbers, meaning population,” he said. “Our cutoff is about 60,000 (people) within a 3-mile radius. Once you get under that, like a Ridgefield or a Battle Ground, you’re starting to become a non-institutional storage facility. There’s a little more risk than we’re looking for.”

Bradley said the risk in a smaller town is if you build a facility that fills a need and then another one moves in, there might not be enough demand to fill multiple facilities.

Part of the reason to look at areas with bigger populations is because the storage unit business can be fickle, Bradley said. During the recession, Vancouver companies weren’t filling up their units. As the economy rebounded, “occupancy has skyrocketed.”

Get Space’s Vancouver facility is at about 87 percent occupied, Bradley said. Somewhere around 90 percent is considered full or stable, he said. The average stay for residential customers is 12 to 14 months, and 24 to 36 months for a commercial customer, he said.

“Storage is unique unlike most real estate properties,” Bradley said. “We work in 30-day leases. It’s not consistent. We spread our risk out over 600 or 700 tenants. We spread our risk out a lot more.”

The Vancouver facility has 639 units ranging from 5-feet by 5-feet to 10-feet by 30-feet.

One reason Bradley said storage facilities look to open in visible locations is because 40 percent of customers come from people walking or driving by.

“You don’t want to be buried back in an industrial zone, because people don’t know you exist,” he said. “You do want to be in a retail location. You want good traffic.”

Even with more people coming in from online advertising, he said it’s important for people to see the facilities so they know it’s there. Then, if a need arises for them to get storage, they’ll remember the business they pass everyday and look that one up.

“Storage is based around life events,” he said. “It’s an immediate need. They’re not looking to sit around for two to three months while you’re trying to open or wait for space to open up.”