Rock Hill city leaders take first steps to limit residents’ choices to store items
Rock Hill stopped approving proposals for storage facilities until it could get a handle on when and where to allow them.
Now it has it.
Rock Hill City Council gave initial approval Monday night to zoning ordinance amendments that would make it more difficult to put new self-storage sites within visible or walkable commercial areas. In November, Council approved a study on self-storage sites and initiated a six-month moratorium on approvals.
“We’ve had a flurry of applications for self-storage uses, which led to some comments from council members specifically raising the concern on some of the locations and the number of the facilities that we were seeing,” said Bill Meyer, city planning and development director. “Because we allowed for these facilities in a broad range of our commercial zoning districts, that they were popping up in some unexpected locations.”
Turns out, it isn’t just a Rock Hill issue.
“This is really a national phenomenon,” Meyer said. “Self-storage is booming.”
Meyer told council Monday he found at least a half dozen communities either with a moratorium or detailed studies on storage sites. The Rock Hill study found self-storage is the third largest use in opportunity zones, the federally created census tract districts aimed at redevelopment incentives to help low-income areas.
“Not quite sure what kind of opportunity self-storage brings to those zones, but it just shows how hot that market is,” Meyer said. “It’s in some ways the most highly profitable investment that people can put into real estate these days. It’s running neck-and-neck with the large warehouses that are used for online sales and distribution.”
The Rock Hill school district boundary area has 23 self-storage sites with more than 1 million square feet of space, Meyer said.
Part of the study looked at whether the city might be short on storage space, hence all the applications. A general rule is 7 to 9 feet of storage per person in an area, Meyer said.
“We’re toward the upper end of that and if anything, over-served,” he said. “We have plenty of them available here right now.”
Since 2015, there have been five storage sites built and two more proposed. They combine for more than 2,800 units and 380,000 square feet of space.
New rules would not allow storage sites in any of the nine residential zoning districts, along with three commercial ones. Property owners could apply for a special exception to allow them in seven commercial zoning districts. Two industrial classifications would allow storage as a conditional use.
The new rules also would list commercial boat and RV storage sites among self-storage.
“You’re renting a parking space, same way that you rent a space at a self-storage building,” Meyer said. “They run on basically the same business model.”
Many of the areas with recent requests would no longer allow them, Meyer said.
“These facilities cannot be located in redevelopment corridors, in walkable commercial areas and in high-visibility locations,” he said.
Requiring special exception and conditional uses allows groups like a zoning board of appeals to consider sites case by case. The multi-story sites might fit better in more urban areas or single-story facilities in more rural ones. Meyer said some standards like walkability or high-visibility were left a little broad to allow the zoning board to make sensible decisions.
Council still has to vote in favor of the changes again to make it official. The moratorium could continue through mid-May or be lifted with new rules in place.
“We Americans seem to like the idea of buying a whole lot of stuff, and we’re even willing to write a check to someone every month to have a place to put it when we can’t fit it in our house,” Meyer said. “You can make your own value judgment on that, but that’s what’s driving this industry right now.”