Saturday, April 13, 2024

As self-storage facilities multiply, Pender County considers banning them from major roadways

Pender County polled over a thousand residents to help write its new land use plan. Residents weighed in against seeing more self-storage facilities along major roadways like US-17.

SOUTHEASTERN, N.C.—Self-storage facilities are springing up nearly everwhere in the area around Wilmington. But in Pender County there is a now move to prevent them from being built alongside major roadways.

Part of the reason for Pender County’s move may boil down to aesthetics. Archie McGirt, who has been in the self-storage business for 17 years, said he actually got into the industry because he found existing self-storage facilities so visually unappealing

“I kept looking at storage and thought, ‘these things are ugly,'” he said.

RELATED: Wilmington Planning Commission will consider reducing regulations in conservation districts

Motivated in part by examples of how not to build a storage facility, McGirt said roadside aesthetics have fueled his 17-year-long career in the industry.

After opening Monkey Junction Self Storage’s first location in 2001 while in his 50s, McGirt was in town before other facilities started popping up.

“Some of the old storage facilities are just simple, old clad metal buildings,” McGirt said.

Now that there are approximately 30 facilities in the city – and counting. McGirt said his commitment to taste has kept him in business. Along Carolina Beach Road McGirt is developing two new facilities, but not all communities are as welcoming to storage buildings.

But across the county border, along US-17 in Pender County, businesses like McGirt’s might soon be prevented.

Keeping storage off the road

After over 1,350 residents responded to an open-ended community survey, Pender County officials interpreted their input into recommended action items. The development of storage facilities along primary roadways made it onto the county’s 50 action items included in Pender 2.0 Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The action item suggests residents would rather not see storage facilities along US-17 in Pender County.

Recommended Action 5.1.K.1 asks Commissioners to “discourage the construction of storage facilities along the road frontage. Such facilities should be located behind other development and generally not visible from primary roadways.”

Though the recommendation is not yet policy, Pender County officials will be tasked with translating the Land Use Plan into language that will be incorporated in the upcoming Unified Development Code.

“We will create appropriate designations for them,” Pender County Planning Director Kyle Bruer said. “By no means do we want to eliminate them.”

By creating zoning designations for “personal service” businesses located in the general business district, the county will assign storage facilities to areas outside of the US-17 roadway.

“The purpose of it would be to avoid potentially having misuse located on the primary route in eastern Pender County,” Bruer said.


Meanwhile, in Wilmington, storage facilities are showing up along well-traveled roadways.

With the exception of code that requires facilities to conceal items stored from residentially-zoned properties adjacent to the business in the Special Highway Overlay District, the city does not maintain storage-specific regulations.

In New Hanover County, there are no regulations that specifically pertain to the development of storage facilities.

Dr. Adam Jones, professor of economics at University of North Carolina Wilmington, suggested the industry’s growth is not unique to the Cape Fear region.

“This is not a New Hanover phenomenon, but a nationwide one,” Jones wrote in an email.

Jones sees the growth of storage facilities as four-fold: increased apartments are increasing demand, retirees downsizing and moving to the area, increased consumptive behaviors and inexpensive units could simply be a placeholder generating income as new development awaits.

Sparefoot is an online company that provides listing for storage facilities, including City Storage, Seagate Mini Storage, Street Smart Storage, Coastal Mini Storage of Wilmington, A-1 Self Storage, Save Green Self Storage and Go Store It.

“There’s no commitment,” Shawn Stevenson, customer service representative for Sparefoot, said. “It’s easy to get in; it’s easy to get out.” 

Ranging in price for a five-by-five-foot container at $45 a month to $160 a month for a 10-by-20-foot space, Stevenson said units closer to the center of town tend to be more expensive.

“45 to 50 percent of our market is college students,” Stevenson said.

Construction along the outskirts

After being in the industry for nearly two decades, McGirt has noticed more new facilities in the past two years than ever before.

“Within the last two years, we’ve had more storage starting to really pop up, but that’s because of the growth of Wilmington.”

McGirt said that pushing storage facilities off the roadway – his main source of business – could be a form of business discrimination.

“I would think that would be looking towards a lawsuit from the industry,” McGirt said. “I don’t see how they could come in and put us to the side and say we’re different from everybody else.” 

If public complaints are about building design, McGirt said municipalities could be pickier about businesses it allows on the highway.

“Dollar General can have the sorriest aesthetics and be put up anywhere,” he said. “Why don’t they put gentlemen’s clubs back in the woods back there instead of right there on the street?”

Regardless of where storage facilities are built, McGirt said with new apartments built every year, there will be a need for his services.

“It hasn’t slowed down a bit since I got started,” he said. “It’s been nothing but a steady growth.”

Editor’s note: Sparefoot was initially identified as the parent company, not a listing service, for several Wilmington-based storage facilities. 

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