Approaching Self-Storage Re-Zoning Like A Professional

To build a self-storage facility typically requires going before Planning and Zoning as well as the City Council. Sometimes it’s just to approve your plans, but in other cases it’s required to get the zoning necessary to have the right to build this usage category. While there are professionals who offer their services in this regard, they are expensive and may not fit your budget. So here’s how you can attack these situations like a professional.

Put together a great presentation with renderings

You can tell the professional presentations from the amateur ones based simply on the materials presented. And the big piece missing is typically the “visuals” and, most specifically, the renderings of what the storage property will look like. There are many services that can do professional renderings available online (simply Google “3D renderings”) and the cost can be as little as $500. Renderings are what really separate the pros from the rest of the pack, and with modern technology there’s no reason you cannot get this done. They say a “picture tells a thousand words” and that’s 100% true when you’re trying to explain your plans to a bureaucrat that has very little imagination. And don’t simply show a photo of a similar property – they are typically bad for your case. While photos show all the gritty details like powerlines and paving imperfections, renderings don’t include all the ugly points and are much easier to sell from.

Get the votes before you file your case

There is typically no law that precludes you from contacting those who will be at the meeting in advance to find out their thoughts and comments. Professionals never file their zoning application until they have learned and satisfied all their judges’ concerns. Some members of the voting board may detest certain attributes (like orange roll-up doors) allowing you to make simply changes (like to green doors) to overcome their negativity. While you can’t please everybody, you can please the majority and in this manner you are nearly always assured of winning the case. If you think that the moment to address concerns is once you are standing up there at the podium you are terribly wrong. Most decision makers in these cases have already decided their vote before the meeting even begins.

Anticipate the questions and prepare your responses

You already know the questions that will be presented, so do your homework. There will be the neighbor that complains that the facility will create too much traffic. And another neighbor that claims that it will be ugly and drive down the value of real estate in the area. Think through these concerns and prepare your answers ahead of time. Once again, the time to battle these negative issues is not standing up at the podium. You need to come prepared with additional evidence as well, if possible. Showing facts and figures on traffic patterns and property values – as well as similar uses already in the neighborhood – is vital to winning.

Dress the part

Too many times the potential storage developer approaches the podium looking like they are on their way to a golf course or Home Depot. This is a serious moment and you need to wear either coat and tie or at least business casual. The audience is certainly going to judge you by your appearance (even though society tries to tell us that it’s the content that’s vital) and you better look in keeping with your plans to build a professional-quality property. If you are incapable of public speaking, you have the right to choose somebody else to represent you, and that’s probably a good idea. A fumbling speaker is going to immediately sour the voters on your ability to build any better than you speak.


If you can afford to hire a professional to handle the zoning issues for you, then do it. If you can’t then these tips will give you an edge and make your case more successful. Remember that preparation is key in these moments and the more time and effort you put it the better you will do.

Frank Rolfe has been an active self-storage investor for around two decades, with self-storage units in many states throughout the U.S. His nuts and bolts knowledge of what makes for a successful self-storage facility has led to a three-decade career without a single failed property.