La Canada self-storage gets P&Z nod

A $12 million, 105,756-square-foot, 34-foot-tall self-storage facility on 2.53 acres west of La Canada Drive and north of Tangerine Road has been given favorable recommendation by the Oro Valley Planning and Zoning Commission.

It now goes to the Oro Valley Town Council for final consideration.

If it goes ahead, the project may help ease chronic traffic congestion and create field space at Leman Academy of Excellence Oro Valley, the 1,100-student K-8 charter school just north of the parcel.

The developer, South Carolina-based Centennial American Partners, would construct a north-south “spine” road along the west side of the property, connecting Leman directly to Tangerine and away from periodically clogged La Canada. And CAP would sell 3.94 acres closest to the charter school to Leman, which would use that land for sports fields.

When Leman Oro Valley was built in 2016, “we didn’t buy enough land,” Mike Farley, co-founder of Leman Academy, told P&Z at its Jan. 10 meeting. The school lacks “a big enough play field for the kids.” CAP’s asking price on the undeveloped adjacent ground is “just outstanding.” Farley said, “the road will substantially help with the traffic issue we have at the school.”

Twice each school day, parents drive to and from Leman, located on the west side of La Canada north of Tangerine. Vehicles line up, and “unanticipated traffic issues” have resulted, according to a town staff report. “The issue everyone has acknowledged is traffic,” said attorney Keri Silvyn of Lazarus & Silvyn, representing the developer.

A new median on La Canada for northbound left-turn lanes, a new right-in/right-out access point at La Canada, and the new spine road would “help to relieve pressure on the two existing access points utilized by the school,” according to a town staff report.

CAP owner Brody Glenn served on his community’s planning commission in South Carolina. “I truly believe in this process,” he told the Oro Valley board. Here, several public neighborhood meetings, as well as private meetings with neighbors and town staff, have taken place.

As a result of those conversations, the rectangular self-storage building would be oriented with its shortest edge along La Canada, preserving some view corridors to the west. Faux windows would be installed on all four sides. And “we pushed it as close to La Canada as we could,” away from homes in the Residences at Miller Ranch immediately west of the property, Glenn said.

The building would host 534 storage units, all internally accessed. Within the space, at the town’s request, a first-floor, 4,000-square-foot retail space would be created. That’s similar to the arrangement at Life Storage in Oro Valley’s Steam Pump Village, where Artists and Makers Studios occupies a first-floor retail space.

Three-story towers on the self-storage building would be dark from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Activity would cease at 10 p.m. Enhanced buffer space and a screen wall would be installed along its western edge. Standard office hours are proposed from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Two neighbors were unconvinced of the project’s merits.

“I’m kind of outgunned here,” neighbor Kathryn Hull Butkus acknowledged. “There are six other self-storage units in Oro Valley. Do we really need another one? There’s got to be another reasonable solution for that property.”

Across the country, CAP is building 38 self-storage facilities exclusively for the business Extra Space Storage, with seven planned in the Tucson market. Glenn said most use of self-storage facilities comes from people within two miles of a facility. There is no self-storage within three miles of this site, he said. Nationally, Glenn continued, just over 12% of U.S. households utilize off-site storage units. He believes it’s unlikely the units would be of a scale used by business; the largest would be 10 by 30 feet.

Carlos Cruz, a retired federal agent, “bought the premium lot” in the Residences at Miller Ranch for its “million-dollar view of the Catalina Mountains.” With this project, he’ll have a three-story building in his view, and he urged rejection of the request.

Existing zoning on the land would allow more than 100,000 square feet of office space at 38 feet in height, Silvyn said. Self-storage generates less traffic than office uses. “Is this a better use of the property, with Leman coming along?” she asked.

Neighbor Brian Davies, who lives just west of the development, was “initially, really opposed to this whole thing.” Then he learned “we would have no control” if existing height and use permissions are exercised. “I’m willing to accept what they’re proposing. They’ve been really great to work with.”

Leman’s Farley agreed. “They’ve bent over backwards to help out the school,” he said of CAP. “They’re really being good citizens.”

Miller Ranch was zoned for technical park uses in 2007 and has been the subject of change and contention ever since. Leman Oro Valley opened in 2017. The Residences at Miller Ranch were approved in 2018, and the first homes built in 2020.

The Miller Ranch Retail Center closest to the Tangerine/La Canada intersection remains undeveloped.

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