City-wide Self Storage Bans Continue

Posted by Brad Hadfield on Jul 31, 2023 12:00:00 AM

Providence, Rhode Island is maxed out when it comes to self storage. At least, that’s what some Providence city council members believe. 

MSM reported in early July that a self storage development ban had been proposed in specific zones within the city, with three city councilors backing a motion that would preserve vacant lands for residential areas and other commercial projects. 

The push to ban self storage began in April, following the approval of two new self storage facilities. At the time, Councilman Miguel Sanchez lamented the lost economic potential and the shrinking area for housing construction. His position has not changed. This week, the councilman – who is the main sponsor of the bill – told NBC 10 WJAR, “In my opinion, there are better uses of the land.” 

The Self Storage Ban

According to Sanchez, a moratorium on self storage will help solve the current housing crisis. “Right now there’s high rent, not a lot of houses on the market for purchase. The opportunity of building equity in home ownership is becoming more scarce,” he says.

Sanchez says concern about self storage predates his tenure in office, with some in his ward having complained about self storage development prior to his leadership. In previous council meetings, Sanchez has said, “What we’re seeing is this industry … gobbling up a lot of land that, in our opinion, should be used for other purposes.”

Now, the Providence city council has taken action, passing a zoning ordinance amendment that will effectively ban new self-storage facilities from being developed within the city for the foreseeable future. The ordinance removes self storage as a “by-right” use from heavy commercial (C-3) zones, allowing these areas to be reserved for housing developments. It also adds a special-use permit requirement for light industrial, the only other place self storage development is allowed.

“That’s where you want to put homes?,” asks Charlie Fritts, President of the Northeast Self Storage Association (NeSSA). ”I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live next to a factory. If the city is worried about housing, they can do better than targeting the self storage industry and moving low income families into industrial areas.”

The NeSSA Speaks Out

The self storage moratorium in Providence comes on the heels of other cities enacting similar bans. As we previously reported, two Florida cities – Cape Coral and Vero Beach – have put a hold on any new storage development, and West Gardiner, Maine, has recently extended an existing self storage moratorium an additional six months. 

Along with the notion of taking away housing space, Sanchez argues that self storage doesn’t offer much in terms of community benefits. “They don’t help stimulate the local economy and they don’t offer many jobs,” he says.

Fritts acknowledges that while self storage doesn’t employ many workers after the construction period, facilities also don’t add to traffic congestion, put more kids into overcrowded schools, or leave much of a carbon footprint, especially compared to other commercial real estate endeavors. “And we pay the same taxes as everyone else does, the same as hotels, apartment complexes, and so on,” he adds.

Fritts believes one reason that self storage is an easy mark is because of its rapid growth – growth, he says, that meets people’s needs. “I don’t think the city has talked to enough people, or done their research, or understand how developers map out locations. No one is going to build a self storage facility where there’s no market demand for it. No lender is going to loan money to a developer who hasn’t done due diligence.”

Another possible motivating factor? “Votes,” says Fritts. “Businesses don’t vote, people do. And there are not too many people working at a storage facility. So, one moves in, and council members don’t get a whole lot of votes from them. Now, put in a housing complex, and suddenly there’s 300 votes they can work for.”

Housing Alternatives

Fritts says that if housing is truly a concern, that there are many historical areas ripe for redevelopment. He suggests the city look closer at Providence millhouses, some of which have been transformed into housing in the past. In 2019, an old millhouse was turned into affordable apartments in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence. Originally constructed in 1923, the mill once was home to a wool manufacturing facility. Now, it offers an attractive alternative to the existing housing stock.

The NeSSA has some Providence residents in its corner. “Self storage is expanding because people want it. Local citizens need the space. Banning self storage isn’t going to help them with housing,” writes AndrewWork3955 on WJAR’s YouTube page. “If they were serious about building more housing, they would find the land and the money and build the housing. Singling out self storage is just them trying to distract from these politicians’ lack of interest in tackling the housing issue. Two Steps: Step 1: Blame self storage. Step 2: Do nothing. Housing problem (not) solved.”

To look at the issue from a broader scope, MSM reached out to Scott Zucker, a Partner in the Atlanta based law firm Weissmann/Zucker, P.C. and a national expert on self-storage law and development.

“The perceptions about self storage that have led to these moratoriums are really unwarranted,” says Zucker. “If you look carefully at self-storage as a real estate product, it creates the unique ability to offer mixed-use capacity. We have seen developments that couple retail and personal services with self storage as well as even multi-family residential options. All of the arguments against self storage can be addressed and resolved with a good design and a flexible planning department.”

Help from the SSA

When it comes to stopping self storage bans, Fritts is confident that the national Self Storage Association will help out through self storage education initiatives.

Courtney Kahler, Executive Director of the NeSSA, agrees. She says the NeSSA is committed to working through the ban and educating people through grassroots efforts. “Our board members will be going to council meetings to speak out about this,” she said. “And, we’re looking to partner with the SSA to stop these bans.”

Brad Hadfield is a staff writer and news researcher for Mini-Storage Messenger. He also manages the Mini-Storage Messenger website.