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Regulating self-storage units

Mini-warehouses, like these self-storage units shown along Woodale Avenue in Howard, require a conditional use permit to construct. The village’s permit requirements for new structures are now undergoing revisions following a change in state law. Ben Rodgers Photo

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

HOWARD – Regulating the construction of self-storage units, known as mini-warehouses, has been affected locally by a change in state law with those types of structures considered a conditional use requiring a permit.

With the passage of 2017 Wisconsin Act 67, a memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council notes local units of government are now required to grant a conditional use permit “if an applicant meets, or agrees to meet, all of the requirements and conditions specified in the relevant ordinance or imposed by the relevant zoning board.”

“Any such conditions must be related to the purpose of the ordinance and based on substantial evidence,” the memo further states. “In addition, the Act requires those requirements and conditions to be reasonable and, to the extent practicable, measureable.”

The phrase “substantial evidence” is now defined in state law to mean “facts and information, other than merely personal preferences or speculation, directly pertaining to the requirements and conditions an applicant must meet to obtain a conditional use permit and that reasonable persons would accept in support of a conclusion.”

Because the change in state law is seen by some local units of government as limiting the discretion they have in being able to deny a conditional use permit, the permitting process has been undergoing changes in local municipalities.

In Howard, for instance, the village’s community development director, Dave Wiese, recently informed the Plan Commission that all the uses in all the zoning districts are being looked at.

However, he noted the current “hot button” seems to be mini-warehousing with the requests the village has received.

The village code defines a mini-warehouse, also known as a self-service storage facility, to mean “a building consisting of varying sizes of unheated, unattended, private, individual, compartmentalized, self-contained and controlled access units, stalls or lockers that are rented, leased or owned for the storage of household or business goods or wares.”

Wiese noted any preference to keep mini-warehousing out of an area, such as in a retail location where a shopping center might be desirable, the village would not be able to outright deny a permit with mini-warehousing being a conditional use in a zoning district if an applicant could demonstrate being able to meet the permit requirements.

Wiese said mini-warehousing is needed in the community, but he has also expressed concerns about a proliferation of it negatively affecting overall property values.

A first step to restrict mini-warehousing was taken June 18 by the Plan Commission when it recommended to the village board that it remove mini-warehousing as a conditional use in the I-1 General Industrial Zoning District. The board then approved the recommendation Monday, June 25.

Wiese has also suggested to the Plan Commission that additional standards be implemented to regulate the construction of mini-warehouses in I-3 Industrial Park Light Industry and I-4 Industrial Park Heavy Industry zoning districts.

That includes standards such as a front-yard setback, paving for parking lots and having storage buildings match a principal structure existing on site.

Wiese said another concern about mini-warehouses is not knowing what might be stored in them.
For instance, he noted storing propane tanks could pose a hazard in the event firefighters would be called to a storage unit to put out a fire.

Ashwaubenon makes changes

The Ashwaubenon village board last month approved extensive changes to the village’s list of allowed uses in the various zoning districts in response to the change in state law affecting the issuance of conditional use permits.

Ashwaubenon Community Development Director Aaron Schuette said the process to revise the table of allowed uses took out quite a few conditional uses and also changed a few conditional uses to permitted uses in portions of the zoning districts where the village officials felt conditional uses were actually an appropriate permitted use within certain zones.

Schuette said having a conditional use for a zoning district had been seen as a “maybe” as to whether that use will be allowed, which the change in state law “flipped it on its head” and has taken away some of the village’s discretion to approve or deny a permit.

He said a conditional use permit application, first and foremost, will now be evaluated on how that conditional use fits into the village’s comprehensive plan, while also identifying “quantifiable and measurable conditions” when considering whether to approve a permit.

Ashwaubenon’s table of allowed uses for mini-warehouses, which are categorized under self-service storage, allows them as a conditional use in both the I-2 Heavy Industry and Industrial Park zoning districts.

The village code in Ashwaubenon defines a mini-warehouse as a “structure containing separate, individual, and private storage spaces of varying sizes leased or rented on individual leases for varying periods of time and where each individual unit has a door that opens to the outdoors at ground level. Units may or may not be climate controlled.”

Schuette noted there haven’t been a lot of permit applications sought in Ashwaubenon for mini-warehouses, for which a good location would be on property not serviced by public sewer and water.

Luxury storage sought in Suamico

Suamico Village Administrator Steve Kubacki said there haven’t been many requests to build mini-warehouses there.
But one the village board considered in recent weeks was a conditional use permit application from Bayland Buildings to construct approximately 160 luxury storage units on vacant land zoned Highway Business at the southeast corner of East Deerfield Avenue and the future Woodfield Court.

With one trustee who owns property near the site abstaining from voting June 4, the board deadlocked 3-3 with the permit application not receiving majority support for approval.

However, the matter will be back on the board’s agenda July 2.

The proposed luxury storage project has been opposed by individuals who own property near the site and object to that type of development at that location.

Village President Laura Nelson, who voted against the development, called it “a sea of rooftops.”

When asked about the criteria for being able to deny a conditional use permit for storage units in Suamico, Kubacki said there would have to be “good reasons” for doing so.

Storage units in Hobart

Despite opposition earlier this year from several residents in Hobart opposed to a storage unit complex on the corner of North Overland and Trout Creek roads, the project received approval from the village board.

The project also involved the rezoning of land for industrial use.

Hobart’s director of neighborhood services, Allyn Dannhoff, said public comments are part of the process when considering requests to build storage units, for which a determination is made as to whether a proposed project would be an “appropriate fit” for the location.

In the eight years he has been with the village, Dannhoff said there have been four conditional use permit applications for mini-warehousing with all of them being approved.

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