WOBURN - The Planning Board recently backed legislation sponsored by City Council President Richard Haggerty that aims to ban future self-storage facilities from coming to Woburn.
During its last regular meeting in City Hall, the Planning Board unanimously recommended passage of Haggerty’s proposed ordinance, which would eliminate storage warehouses as an allowable use in Woburn’s business interstate, industrial park, and industrial general zoning districts.
According to the city council president, he believes the local market is saturated with storage facilities, at least six of which are currently operating in Woburn. Haggerty contends the business use is not one that generates significant tax revenues or investment, and in fact, he believes an argument could be made that self-storage warehouses hurt the city financially by devaluing the worth of industrial properties.
“There seems to be a trend of turning these industrial buildings into warehouse facilities. I look at our zoning in the city and want to encourage higher-end uses. There’s really no jobs created by these [storage businesses] and they tend to devalue properties, when they’re converted,” said Haggerty.
”If someone owns a building and is going through possible uses … they might spend a great deal of money and time [planning a self-storage development]. I don’t want to send mixed messages,” added Haggerty, when Planner Claudia Leis Bolgen pointed out that rather than enacting a zoning change, the City Council could just deny special permit petitions for self-storage businesses.
In response to a question from Planning Board member David Edmonds, the alderman at-large pointed out the zoning change will not put existing self-storage businesses out-of-business, as they can continue to operate as pre-existing, non-conforming uses.
That legal designation extends to any property or business type in existence before local officials establish zoning rules that render that use illegal. For example, many commercial enterprises, though situated in the middle of single-family housing districts, continue to be operated in those neighborhoods as pre-existing, non-conforming uses.
Making clear his position on self-storage facilities, Haggerty maintains those ventures do have value to Woburn residents and businesses. However, with six of those warehouses already in existence, he believes other types of redevelopments should now be encouraged.
“If someone is moving and needs to put something in storage or if you’re a business bursting at the seams … [having a nearby self-storage business is helpful]. But we have seven of them. I think we have plenty to meet the needs of the community,” said Haggerty.
According to Planning Board member Michael Ventresca, though he generally agrees with Haggerty’s vision, he can recall several instances, such as developments by Olympia Avenue and Kohl’s department store in East Woburn, where plans to convert an industrial property into a self-storage facility made sense.
Characterizing the overall use as “low-impact” in terms of generating new traffic, Ventresca wondered whether the city, in prohibiting future self-storage developments, would lose a valuable alternative for industrial buildings bordering residential neighborhoods or high-traffic corridors.
Haggerty, pointing out that many residential abutters are less than happy with the proliferation of storage warehouses in their neighborhoods, conceded the business use is fairly benign. However, he believes industrial properties could still be thoughtfully redeveloped in a way that both minimizes disruptions to abutters and maximizes better investment opportunities for the city.
“If you talked to some residents in those areas, they might see [those businesses] differently than you or I. I would agree with you that it’s a low-traffic [generator]. That’s why we allowed the last one to go in by Olympia Avenue,” Haggerty responded.
“But that [property on Olympia Avenue] is a 28,000-square-foot building, and most of it will become storage. Each [of our other self-storage businesses] are well in excess of 50,000 square feet,” he continued. “Certainly along Washington Street, that seemed appropriate, but I’m hoping we can find other low-impact uses that can generate better tax revenues and more jobs,,” said Planner Claudia Leis Bolgen