Zoning Variance for Self Storage - hard to get?

7 Replies

Hey everyone, I wanted to ask if anyone has experience applying for zoning variances for self storage? A partner and I own a warehouse in a small market that we're interested in converting to self storage, but it's in a "mixed commercial/residential" zoning part of town, and the only zoning classifications that are permitted to build self storage per their code are the purely commercial zones. This is my first time ever navigating zoning and building permitting, so I don't know how flexible or rigid these things are.


Given that the new self-storage facility would be a big improvement over the current vacant and dilapidated warehouse it seems like it would be in their best interest, but I've heard that the local government can be very strict including preventing expansion on another nearby self-storage facility by changing their zoning. We both have strong local ties and care about the town and genuinely want to do what's best for the community, and self storage appears the only thing feasible for development on the property except warehouse space. Can anyone provide insight on what to expect and how to maximize my chance of success here?

This will be entirely dependent on the town and it's willingness to see your vision for the property. I've had it done with ease before. I've also been shut down for some pretty bs political reasons. And these properties where in neighboring towns just miles from one another. Your point about improving the property from it's current state should carry some water for you. You'll also want to impress upon them the benefits to the town that come with that, increased tax base, low traffic business, etc. Good luck and keep us posted.

You are going to be asking for a "use" variance which is considerably more difficult to achieve than dimensional area & bulk variances.  It has nothing to do with you making the property better.  It has everything to do with what is allowed on the property.  There are very specific tests for approving a variance.  Use variances are so difficult to get because you need to show the allowed uses on the property are not viable.  Since warehouse seems like it is allowed and already there, that should shoot down your use variance argument - just build another warehouse, your local Zoning Hearing Board should say.  This comes from a PA context - OH may be different.

Look to see how close commercial is to the property.  You might have more success requesting a zoning change for the area if the predominant use in your area is more commercial than residential and it adjoins commercial.  A zoning change is at the discretion of your local elected officials and your "making it better" argument can prevail, especially if you can also show the area is already predominantly commercial or it should be.

Good luck!

@Peyton Zachrich

Check the comprehensive plan for the city and see what the plan dictates for your area.  Based on your current use and the commercial residential district it appears your warehouse  is a legal non-conforming use.  This means although your current use is allowed the code was changed and warehouses are not permitted with this use.  If warehouses are permitted uses; self storage is fairly similar.  I’ve seen many people convert warehouses to self storage.  If it’s not allowed through a conditional use or special use, the alternative is a use exception.  


Good Luck.

The city's planning staff should be able to help guide you through the process. I'd recommend initiating a discussion with them once you're ready. To avoid getting a flat out "no", ask a lot of "what if" questions about their process and what it'll take to get a zoning change or permit approved during initial discussions.   

@Michael Wagner hit the nail on the head (and so did everybody else) - this is goiong to vary based on location, the perception of "need" in the area for self storage, and (sometimes) in how you've actually make the facility look from the street.  We've been able to redevelop with a mixed-use variance, essentially placing office/coworking space in a redevelopment we did, but until we added that, the locals wanted nothing to do with self storage.  It can be a challenge, but it's one worth doing.  

Originally posted by @Scott Meyers :

@Michael Wagner hit the nail on the head (and so did everybody else) - this is goiong to vary based on location, the perception of "need" in the area for self storage, and (sometimes) in how you've actually make the facility look from the street.  We've been able to redevelop with a mixed-use variance, essentially placing office/coworking space in a redevelopment we did, but until we added that, the locals wanted nothing to do with self storage.  It can be a challenge, but it's one worth doing.  

Scott, how did the numbers workout for the mixed use area?  The offices and coworking space, did the increase greatly your revenue/profit per square foot vs pure self storage?  I am very interested in this kind of development as it diversifies the revenue stream of just pure self storage play.

Thanks!