Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Council Will Require Self-Storage Developments to Fit In With Community

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The Birmingham City Council has codified a new policy for developing self-storage facilities in the city, replacing the moratorium it placed on new self-storage developments last year.

The council temporarily halted all development on self-storage facilities citywide in July 2019, excepting those in areas already zoned as M-4 (Planned Industrial) or I-4 (Industrial Park) district. Self-storage facilities were singled out for the moratorium because they do not employ many people and do not generate much sales tax and “thus do not contribute to increasing density and vibrancy of a downtown (area),” District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn said then.

The amended ordinance passed Tuesday will provide a “special exception” for C-2 commercial properties citywide “so that when there are conflicts, we can take a closer look at these properties … and potentially be able to add conditions that would benefit the properties surrounding,” said Tim Gambrell, the city’s chief planner. That means, for example, that a new self-storage development surrounded by office buildings would itself have to look like an office building, with storage units accessible only from inside the building.

Mixed-use and industrial districts downtown, as well as historic and commercial revitalization areas, will be subject to “an even higher level of scrutiny,” Gambrell added, requiring the façade of these structures “to mimic what it sees in the urban fabric that surrounds it … . If someone wants to put a mini-storage unit downtown, the result is going to a building that looks like the building adjacent to it.”

For those districts, the new ordinance also will require self-storage developments to dedicate 50% of their ground floors “to shopfront or restaurant use,” Gambrell said. “They’re going to be required to activate that space,” he said.

Gambrell argued that an outright ban on self-storage units downtown would stymie redevelopment of otherwise empty buildings.

“There may be an argument to just get rid of them altogether, but what we argued is, if we get rid of them … a building that could have been rehabbed in this way could not be, and then it just sits there for years and years and becomes more vacant, more blight,” Gambrell said. “As market conditions get better and property values increase, this building that was once a storage place could become the next apartment community.

O’Quinn, who had been one of the chief proponents of the moratorium, said on Tuesday that he is happy with the changes. “I’m glad we were able to head off what were some bad projects,” he said. “Thankfully, we’re bringing this to a close and have a permanent plan going forward.”

He added that he hoped the ordinance would make developers “think beyond the lowest common denominator and, instead of doing what’s easiest, use some imagination and be more creative.”