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News / Business / Clark County Business

Vancouver puts hold on new self-storage facilities

City cites its goal of more employees per acre in development

By Anthony Macuk, Columbian business reporter
Published: December 21, 2018, 6:05am

The Vancouver City Council voted unanimously this week to institute a six-month moratorium on applications for new self-storage facilities in all of the city’s commercial and industrial zones where self-storage is a permitted use.

The moratorium also applies to expansions of existing facilities, but does not prohibit maintenance, repair or city-mandated health and safety improvements.

The primary stated purpose of the moratorium is to give city staff time to develop a comprehensive strategy for regulating self-storage facilities, which would be incorporated into the Commercial Corridor Strategy, a package of new land-use codes that the city intends to create next year.

In the meantime, city staff recommended putting a halt on any new self-storage facilities. The main concern is that self-storage businesses employ very few people, which doesn’t fit with the city’s goals for commercial development.

According to Bryan Snodgrass, neighborhood liaison with the city’s community planning department, the city’s goal is for commercial areas to develop with an average of 25 employees per acre and industrial areas to develop with 11 employees per acre. Self-storage facilities tend to employ just one person per 19,000 square feet of building space, according to a 2007 Snohomish County study.

“The Vancouver comprehensive plan calls for efficient use of employment land,” he told the council at a meeting on Monday. “Citywide and certainly in commercial areas on major corridors, we would certainly expect and hope for more intensive development rather than less. That was part of the concern.”

A self-storage application earlier this year also raised concerns about security, due to what one self-storage business owner described as an emerging industry trend toward facilities that are entirely unstaffed.

The city has 48 self-storage businesses in operation, according to a staff report from City Manager Eric Holmes, and 11 applications for new facilities have been submitted in the past five years, which Snodgrass characterized as slightly higher than the historical average.

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The moratorium comes at a time when the growth of the self-storage industry is receiving both regional and national attention. New York and some other cities have chosen to ban self-storage outright in their industrial areas, according to Councilor Ty Stober.

“Other cities have taken kind of the opposite approach and said we want them there,” he said. “So it’s a great opportunity for us to understand what works best for us to provide vibrant neighborhoods and maximize our employment areas.”

The real estate research firm Yardi Matrix publishes a monthly list of U.S. cities ranked by the percentage of their overall local self-storage inventory that is currently planned or under construction. Portland ranked No. 1 in both October and November, fueled by strong population growth.

Ridgefield and Battle Ground both began taking a look at the self-storage issue last year, and the Ridgefield City Council ultimately voted to institute a local moratorium of its own in June 2017.

Battle Ground didn’t take direct action, according to acting city manager Erin Erdman, but decided to keep its existing rules which allow self-storage in light industrial and mixed-use employment zones, but not commercial.

At Monday’s meeting, several Vancouver city councilors expressed support for the moratorium, but stressed that the measure was not intended as a permanent policy and does not constitute a ban on existing public storage facilities.

“I don’t want this to be taken in any way that we’re trying to ban or absolutely get rid of self-storage,” said Councilor Bart Hansen. “We’re going to be having self-storage for quite some time, and I can think of some great zones in the county that it would probably work well for, but in the meantime we probably should have a more refined plan about what we’re going to do in the city.”

Councilors Alishia Topper and Bill Turlay also sought reassurance that the ordinance is narrowly tailored enough to avoid accidentally affecting other businesses and industries. Snodgrass replied that the ordinance is based on use definitions that are already in the city’s code, and should avoid any ambiguity.

City councils have the authority to adopt emergency moratorium ordinances under the state’s Growth Management Act, according to city attorney E. Bronson Potter. The ordinance must receive a public hearing within 60 days. A hearing for the self-storage moratorium is scheduled for the council’s Jan. 28 meeting. The moratorium can be renewed with another council vote if necessary.

Adam Littman contributed to this report.

Columbian business reporter