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The city of Benton Planning and Zoning Commission during a meeting Tuesday approved a motion that would start the process of limiting the number of mini-storage unit facilities within the city limits.
The motion, if fully approved later this month by the Benton City Council, will change the zoning matrix in the city to limit those types of businesses from being built in Benton.
While the motion was approved by the commission, it is just the first step in the process. At the request of Benton Mayor Tom Farmer, a public hearing on the matter will be held at 5 p.m. July 26, prior to the Benton City Council agenda meeting at 5:30 p.m. and the full city council meeting at 6 p.m.
“This came about in many conversations the mayor and I have had over the past few months,” said Benton Community and Economic Developer Director Brad Jordan. “It really stemmed from the fact that, more and more, we’re seeing mini-storage, RV storage, all sorts of storage, coming into our city. To me, and the mayor does agree with this, that it is taking up valuable commercial real estate that could be an economic development boom for the city.”
Jordan added that he and the mayor believe mini-storage facilities are not a source of good economics for the city.
“When you think of the size of the development verses how many jobs that it creates, the ratio is pretty outstanding, meaning there is not a lot of employees that these people hire, ” Jordan said.
Jordan said that this change would not have been a consideration 10 years ago, but the available commercial real estate area in the city is very valuable and is hard to come by in the current climate.
“I would like to propose a small but significant change to our zoning matrix,” Jordan said.
While using the term “mini-storage” throughout the meeting, Jordan added that the change encompasses many kinds of storage facilities in commercial areas. The change would reclassify storage facilities to C2 which is a conditional use. Those proposing to build new commercial storage facilities would need to obtain permission from the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Benton City Council. The current zoning matrix classifies these businesses as C3, meaning they are allowed by right without further approval. Areas that are classified as industrial would not be subject to the reclassification and construction of new facilities in those areas would not need to come before the commission or council to build.
“We don’t feel as leaders of our city that we need to be put into the position to be told how our city develops,” Jordan said. “We want to be the ones that help craft that (and) help shape how our city develops.”
Jordan added this change would not completely zone out these types of businesses or make the playing field unfair, but that the change would give the commission and the council the opportunity to vet the business on a case-by-case basis.
“What I don’t want to end up doing is that, 20 years down the line, Benton is known as a city full of mini-storage,” Jordan said.
Commissioner Lois Burks asked if there had been a specific proposal that prompted the subject. Jordan added that there was not, but that the conversation about the subject had been ongoing with Farmer since March. 
Commissioner Brian Black added that he believed there is a place for every type of business within the city and used the example that there are multiple “nice gas stations” in the area, but that there is a proper place for those types of businesses and residents wouldn’t want to see one in the middle of a residential area.
“The same goes for mini-storage,” Black said while expressing his support for the motion.
Jordan added that most C3 classifications are in very visible areas, including just off of the interstate.
“I just want to go on record that I’m not against these things at all,” Jordan said. “As a general rule I am not against mini-storage. Me and my wife have a bunch of stuff. We used to have mini-storage. I’m just saying that we need to be the ones driving this car and not letting someone else.”
Commissioner Carl West, who voted to approve the motion, expressed his wish for there to be specific guidelines for the commission when these types of projects are presented to the commission for consideration.
Jordan said the guidelines are already in place within the current zoning rules and that it is not his wish for the commission to be arbitrary in their considerations. Like all proposals for consideration, local residents will be able to speak to the commission on whether they are for or against each project. 
West suggested possibly adding some design guidelines and Jordan said he would be open to that idea. 
“Less arbitrary is always good city policy,” Jordan said. 

The motion was approved unanimously by the commission. The next step will be the 5 p.m. public hearing July 26 in the city council chambers at the Benton Municipal Complex.