Maximize Your Self-Storage Land Potential

As a self storage developer, do you feel that every square inch of land that you buy has to be covered with rentable space? Whether you’re purchasing an already-existing facility with an extra parcel of land attached or doing a ground-up development, do you have the mindset that building on every square foot will increase your return on investment (ROI)? This approach works some of the time, but it can also result in a negative impact to your ROI. 

Whatever direction you take, be mindful of municipal requirements like zoning, easements, stormwater rules, and fire zones. You don’t want to negatively impact your project and end up lowering your return on investment. 

To make the most of your land, you have to consider other factors, some of which will be outside of your control.

Maximize Your Land

The first thing you need to do is try to envision how the buildings will fit on the site or designated area. Design can be challenging, so sketch out a site plan before you meet with the construction and architectural professionals.The topography has to be considered when you think about levels, drive aisles, and ramps. If you sacrifice convenience for more rentable space than is practical, it may drive your potential customers to your competitors.

Know Your Municipal Requirements

Easements – An easement is essentially the legal right for someone else to use property for a specific purpose: for example a utility line or access to a playground. Easements are an obstacle to any self storage project. An easement can sometimes be eliminated by acquisition or you may be able to use it as a drive aisle or outside parking. In any case, unless there is an workable solution, it’s sometimes better to pass on the land. 

Zoning – Zoning varies greatly from one city to another, so you need to have a thorough understanding of the jurisdiction’s zoning ordinance and its impact on the location. Zoning codes can refashion the type, height, and shape of the buildings to be compatible with the neighborhood. Some cities have a limitation on the ratio of land to the building area, or impose a restriction on the percentage of land covered by the building footprint. Occasionally, there are unusual landscape requirements for self storage in the way of aesthetics that mandate planting additional trees and shrubs. You’ll need a competent engineer or land planner to help you sort through these regulations imposed by city councils, planning commissions, design review boards, and zoning administrations.

Stormwater Rules – Be aware of these rules, and be sure that they will not interfere with the development of your site. Requirements for a storm pond to control water runoff, along with plans to clean the runoff, can use considerable land. These rules can burden a self-storage site to the point that development isn’t workable.

Fire Codes – Another area to look at when developing your plans is the fire-code. Your plans may have to be reworded to add mandated maximum square footage, hydrants, and fire-apparatus access. 

Look Toward the Future

Your original site plan needs to be well thought out if you’re considering future modifications. Sometimes an extra building or portable storage that technically fits, makes tenant access inconvenient. Disruptive impact from subsequent construction will cause dust, dirt, and a reduction in property access. Carefully consider how you’ll separate the operating facility from the new construction. An expansion might result in a short-term increase in revenue, but could eventually lead to a decline if customers feel more comfortable elsewhere. 


You won’t win any prizes for having the most rentable square feet. In the end, a well-planned property with efficiency and customer convenience in mind will give you the outcome that you’re hoping for.