CLEARWATER — For the second time this year, the City Council is on track to ignore warnings from planning and development staff by green-lighting a self storage facility in an area where the businesses aren't permitted.
The latest project conflicts with U.S. 19 development standards that the city has spent 10 years and about $853,000 crafting, said planning and development director Michael Delk. But it's part of a growing market of self storage facilities moving into Pinellas County in prime retail areas.
The owner of the former Denny's restaurant property on U.S. 19 near the intersection with Countryside Boulevard is asking the City Council to allow a self storage warehouse on the site, even though it is in a section of the thoroughfare zoned for high wage employment and transit supported uses like retail, restaurants and offices. Self-storage facilities are permitted only in pockets to the south of the site, less geared toward small-scale retail.
The property owner, Savelle Clearwater Countryside, is requesting an exception be made only for properties 0.75 to 0.9 acres in size within this portion of U.S. 19 where storage facilities are not allowed. That would apply only to the Denny's site and one nearby restaurant.
The council will cast a final vote Thursday on the exception, after giving initial approval earlier this month with a 3-2 vote. Mayor George Cretekos and council member Bob Cundiff voted no.
In April the Council also ignored planning staff's advice and voted 4-1 to rezone an aging office building on Duncan Avenue off Gulf to Bay Boulevard in the Skycrest Neighborhood to allow for a storage facility.
Savelle Clearwater's lawyer, Brian Aungst Jr., who also represented the developer of the Duncan property, said the former Denny's site has proven to be a challenge for redevelopment. It is landlocked with Dick's Sporting Goods to the rear, and to access it, drivers must exit U.S. 19 on a frontage road before they see the site.
"Objectively what we're proposing is better than what's there," Aungst told the Community Development Board last month before the board denied the application. "What's there is almost impossible to get rid of under the current plan based on the site dynamics."
Vacant since 2015, Aungst said at least 43 businesses have looked into the site but passed on it because of the configuration. The owners are under a pending purchase agreement with real estate development firm Broome Capital contingent on the exception from the council. The firm's affiliate, Broome Storage, received a rezoning approval from Tampa City Council in May for a five-story self storage facility on West Gandy Boulevard; had another storage facility completed in downtown St. Petersburg in June; and another project break ground in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood earlier this year, according to a news release.
Pinellas County Economic Development Director Mike Meidel said storage warehouses are increasingly targeting prime retail locations as demand increases, taking space that could be going to businesses that produce more jobs and have higher economic impact.
There are at least 150 self storage facilities in Pinellas County taking up 5.6 million square feet of space, according to data Meidel pulled from commercial real estate firm CoStar. But there is demand to support another 8 million square feet of space, he said.
The self storage industry had a lull in Pinellas County, with few if any facilities built between 2008 and 2016, Meidel said. In the last two years, at least three have been built with another three under construction, he said.
According to economic consultants Impact DataSource, a storage warehouse would produce about 10 direct jobs over 10 years and $271,167 to the city in taxes while an office or retail use would bring in 191 jobs and $1.4 million to the city.
"It really is just eating up land that we don't have enough of," Meidel said. "It doesn't employ many people at all and it takes that land that could have been an office building, could have been retail, could have been more than storing people's junk."
As part of the request, Broom Capital is pledging to build 3,200 square feet of retail space along the front of the building, which will have 800 storage units and about 85,000 square feet of storage space.
"The idea we would somehow consider 3,200 square feet of a coffee shop or retail having some economic viability consistent with what our goals for U.S. 19 are just can't be taken seriously," Delk said.
Even though city code requires one parking space for every 20 units for storage facilities, the exception would allow the project to have only 18 spaces between the storage and retail components.
In giving initial approval to the project, Council member David Allbritton said the fact other high activity areas like Westshore Plaza in Tampa allow self storage "sealed the deal" for him.
Council member Hoyt Hamilton said the request is basically "spot zoning" and the code change would only affect one additional property in the storage warehouse-banned area.
"I know the property owner has made efforts to put something there but he hasn't been able to entice anybody," Hamilton said. "This is the best option that's come forward."
Contact Tracey McManus at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.