When I read a recent News & Observer headline, “Self-storage developers eye prime real estate in Wake,” my first thought was that this sounded like good news. Developers are building. That sounds like economic activity. There will be jobs associated with the building itself, and more to run the facility once it’s built. This is a good news story, right?
Not according to some.
… Raleigh leaders and some neighbors are criticizing a developer’s plan to build a self-storage facility on South Street, about a block away from the [Red Hat Amphitheater] music venue. They say the roughly 1-acre site, which has a tax value of $2.4 million, is deserving of something more exciting.
“This doesn’t seem like the kind of development that fosters a dynamic area around the amphitheater,” said Josh Marlow, president of the Boylan Heights Association, which represents the historic neighborhood. “I think we’d like to see something more vibrant … not just something to occupy the space.”
I will grant that self-storage facilities are not the most exciting thing in the world. That’s true. But they’re useful in locations where space is at a premium, where there is high-density housing, where garages and attics and spare bedrooms are rare. Which pretty accurately describes downtown Raleigh.
I looked at properties available to rent or buy in and around downtown, somewhat near the site of this planned self-storage facility, and there are actually quite a lot. However, and this is crucial, if I start looking for houses that have some storage – at least two bedrooms and some sort of garage – the number drops pretty quickly. The number of homes available, that is. The other important number, the price, shoots up.
So it’s not surprising that there’s increasing demand for storage facilities. We keep being told how great high-density living is, how much the city of Raleigh wants to encourage people to live near where they work and eat and shop. But the homes near Raleigh’s vibrant downtown – unless one is very wealthy indeed – just don’t have the sort of space that people need to store very much.
And then there are people who are moving to Raleigh and will buy a large enough house to store all their stuff, but who have a transitional period before they make that purchase. Many families live in a small rental while they get to know the area and then buy or build a house. Those folks are the very people we are so keen to attract to the Triangle, but they’re also folks who use self-storage facilities.
Let me be clear. I don’t want people to stop living in or near downtown if that’s where they want to live. I don’t want to suggest to anyone that he should or shouldn’t buy the small condo or rent the tiny house with no garage. I also don’t want to force people to live in those smaller homes if they’d prefer a larger one with more storage on a bigger lot farther from downtown. I don’t want to push people toward high-density housing they don’t want. And neither should the city government.
But it’s even worse when the city pushes for a particular kind of urban plan and then pushes back against some of the natural results of that development. Thankfully, it appears they’ll be unable to do so in this case. The zoning of that particular area allows for a self-storage facility, so it will likely go ahead.
And that’s a good thing, because government shouldn’t put itself in the position of choosing which businesses are and aren’t good for a particular community. The developers are responding to demand, in part created by the city’s planning. City leaders should step back and allow them to do so.
Julie Tisdale is city and county policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation.