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RP rejects new self-storage facilities

By: Dave Williams
March 17, 2017
Council has other uses in mind for industrial land that will increase city’s sales tax revenue

Developers hoping to erect new self-storage facilities within the city limits of Rohnert Park shouldn’t hold their breath. The Rohnert Park City Council made sure of that by amending its Municipal Code and Northwest Specific Plan to basically put a moratorium on the building of new storage facilities.

The changes to the NSP and Municipal Code eliminated various storage facilities from the list of allowable land uses. They also served as a preemptive move to protect the relatively limited land available for industrial use from developers building storage facilities.

Both amendments passed with 4-0-1 votes. Mayor Jake Mackenzie was absent, and Vice Mayor Pam Stafford ran the meeting. 

Rohnert Park has been working on this issue for the past three years. The city has had a moratorium in place on new self-storage facilities because of public health and safety concerns since May 13, 2015. That moratorium, however, was scheduled to expire on May 12. The initial moratorium bought the Rohnert Park Planning Commission time to review the city’s need and the impact of this type of land use.

The city, according to a staff report submitted by Director of Development Mary Grace Pawson and submitted by Technical Advisor Norman Weisbrod, has a relatively limited supply of industrial land. And storage facilities are considered low-quality land uses that have limited the benefits to the city and neighboring properties because they have few employees and produce little to no sales tax. Also, storage facilities are not designed to support any occupancy and have very little on-going activity, which creates opportunities for criminal behavior.

“We were able to document 200 police calls in the three years that led up to the moratorium at our self-storage facilities,” Pawson told the council.

“We documented illegal activities and have photos where facilities were used as living facilities and became code enforcement issue.”

The city’s review revealed there were people using their storage facilities as living units as well as a number of petty theft incidents, suspicious persons and circumstances, and grand theft. Standalone RV storage presents a similar risk because owners could live in the units, resulting in health and safety concerns. Vehicle storage yards present risks of soil and water contamination from leaked fluids and unauthorized vehicle repairs by owners or mobile repair services. 

The visual character of self-storage facilities was another factor for the moratorium. The design of the structures and properties are typically very simple. Design details are typically lacking and site improvements are minimal. A significant concern related to security and the potential for criminal activity is the lack of eyes on the streets inherent with this use type. This facility type is internally focused with very few people on site at any one time, which doesn’t allow for the property frontage to be monitored very easily from inside the facility. 

Despite the drawbacks of storage facilities, city staff says they do serve a need but that need can be filled by the six existing storage facilities within city limits. 

Of the four most populated cities or towns in Sonoma County – including Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Windsor – Rohnert Park has the lowest self-storage facility to resident ratio. Per capita, Rohnert Park, with 41,398 has one self-storage facility per 7,000 residents. 

Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County with 171,990 residents, has 10 self-storage facilities within its city limits (one for every 17,000 residents per capita). Petaluma, the county’s second-largest city with 59,440 residents, has five self-storage facilities (one for every 12,000 residents per capita). Windsor, with 27,243 residents, has only two self-storage facilities (one for every 14,000 per capita). 

Rohnert Park is looking to bring into its available land for industrial use businesses that can create “spinoff” types of businesses. Pawson said that a good solid employer will generate the need for businesses such as a deli or a dry cleaner nearby but self-storage facilities don’t do it.