Ordinance limits sites for new construction

After a year of study and deliberation, Bloomington City Council members effectively put an end to the city’s flourishing self-storage facility industry with little fanfare.

The council on May 24 unanimously approved a highly restrictive ordinance that won’t prevent the construction of additional self-storage facilities, but seemingly puts an end to the industry’s growth in the near future.

The council’s ordinance is more restrictive than initially drafted, and counter to the Planning Commission’s recommendation from less than two weeks earlier.

The ordinance approval ends a moratorium on construction of such facilities, but leaves few place for construction of new facilities in Bloomington, and none of those options appear to be readily available to developers of self-storage facilities, due to existing uses of the qualifying parcels, according to City Planner Shawn James.

The city’s one-year moratorium on the development of self-storage facilities was enacted in June 2020, and was within a month of expiration at the time of the council’s vote. The moratorium was in response to the increase in such facilities throughout the city.

Bloomington has nine self-storage facilities, which is about double what it had four years ago. “While self-storage is in demand, current regulations allow facilities in some areas that don’t align with the vision and goals of city plans and are impactful to their surroundings,” a city staff report states.

Bloomington appeared to be emerging as the leader in self-storage among its neighboring cities. James said the city has a disproportionate supply of storage units when compared to neighboring cities.

The staff report noted benefits of such facilities, such as providing space for recreational vehicle parking. “This is useful for many residents that are unable, due to code requirements, to park their vehicle at their house.”

But the city has identified drawbacks to its burgeoning supply of storage units. “The use generates low commercial and employment activities,” James said.

The multi-level facilities aren’t always adored by those living or working nearby, as their height and the lighting impacts adjacent properties, he noted.

The council, largely in agreement with those findings, welcomed additional restrictions on future facilities. The ordinance prohibits self-storage facilities on parcels designated as protected industrial in the Comprehensive Plan, in areas within a half mile of existing or planned light rail transit or bus rapid transit stations that typically provide access to high-density residential or employment opportunities, on parcels included within the city’s Lyndale Avenue Retrofit Study area and in areas within 500 feet of properties zoned and used residentially.

The ordinance also requires council approval of a conditional-use permit for future facilities. Permit approvals were previously under the purview of the Planning Commission, the staff memo noted.

Based upon the restrictions of the ordinance, there are four areas within the city that could accommodate new self-storage facilities, according to James. Of the nine facilities in the city, only two along American Boulevard will conform to the new ordinance. The other seven are legal, non-conforming facilities, he noted.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial of the ordinance during its May 13 meeting, indicating a preference for a less restrictive approach and suggesting the approved ordinance is essentially a prohibition on self-storage facilities, according to the staff memo.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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