U-Haul not allowed to park out frontBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
A motion to allow a proposed U-Haul facility to park moving trucks in front of the building — albeit behind a decorative fence — was voted down 3 to 2 by the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
The U-Haul facility, consisting of a storage facility, a retail store with moving supplies and other items, and truck rental, is proposed for the Thomas Crossroads area on Highway 34 near Highway 154.
U-Haul wanted to be able to park one of each of the seven types of trucks in the front of the store so that people driving by would know the trucks are available. To do so, a variance to the QDC regulations was required.
A public hearing on the variance was held last month before the Coweta Board of Zoning Appeals. The zoning appeals board voted unanimously to recommend denial.
The county planning department staff also recommended denial, but listed several conditions if the variance were to be approved. Those conditions included a brick wall and a decorative fence around the front of the building.
“What we are asking for in the variance is for your permission to build a U-Haul center,” said Carlos Vizcarra, president of Amerco Real Estate, U-Haul’s in-house real estate division.
Vizcarra said the U-Haul center will be an estimated $5 million investment.
In the retail store, in addition to moving supplies, there are also models of the various sizes of storage units, he said. That way people can get a feel for what they need.
“It’s the same thing with trucks,” he said. “If they are moving a two-bedroom apartment, they don’t automatically know they need a 20-footer,” he said. “If they can go and open the doors that is going to be a lot of help.”
The planning department recommendations were for a maximum of three trucks out front at any one time, if the variance were to be approved. Vizcarra said he’d like at least five.
“I would love for y’all to come and I think it is a great location,” said Commissioner Tim Lassetter during Tuesday’s commission meeting. But, he asked, “Why not just have a sign that says truck rental?”
“I guess from my perspective I don’t understand why having the vehicles out frontâ ¦ is so critical, versus having a sign,” Lassetter said. “Because, generally speaking, once you see a U-Haul sign you know that there are trucks there,” he said.
“I don’t understand the importance of it being so significant — of not coming — if you don’t have trucks in front of the location.”
Vizcarra had previously said that “when someone moves they know exactly where to go. That is the result of having equipment on site and on display. If we don’t have that, then my board of directors will not allow me to expand and make a $5 million investment.”
“With 1,400 locationsâ ¦ we’ve established a lot of data,” said Vizcarra. “We have found the less display space we have, the less customers we have in a store.”
County Zoning Administrator Angela White said the recommended conditions include a 3-foot opaque wall, five-foot decorative fence, and trucks no longer than 17 feet. That is for safety reasons.
Vizcarra said he’d like at least a 20-footer.
Store staff could take people to the back to see bigger trucks, said Commissioner Al Smith.
Smith made a motion to approve the variance with the recommended conditions.
Commission Chairman Rodney Brooks represents the Thomas Crossroads area. He said he thinks with the screen, it might be OK.
Brooks said he spoke to “a couple of the commercial neighbors” in the area. “I point blank asked them what their thoughts were,” he said. “Their comments were ‘if it looks nice, I’m in favor of it,’” he said.
Brooks asked Vizcarra if U-Haul would be willing to help pay for a traffic signal at the median break in front of Chick-fil-A and Bank of America.
“Yes we would be,” Vizcarra said. “I’d also like to point out that our traffic counts are actually very small” compared to the other uses nearby.
Brooks suggested paying half of the cost of the signal, roughly $100,000. Vizcarra said that would be OK.
But the U-Haul store is not even at the median break, said Tom Crymes, local representative for the applicants. The facility access will be right-in, right-out only.
Brooks asked Smith if he would be willing to amend his motion to require U-Haul to cover 25 percent of the cost of a new signal. Smith agreed.
“I hope they come,” said Lassetter. “But it’s just hard for me to live with deciding to approve something like this when we’ve got somebody right across the road, that is over the length of a football field away from 34, that couldn’t do this same thing,” he said, referring to Tractor Supply.
“We are in unprecedented economic hardship,” Brooks said. “I think anything we can do as a board” to help the economy would be fine “as long as it doesn’t take away from the quality corridor.”
Commissioner Paul Poole asked what effect granting the variance would have on the QDC.
“It may set a precedent,” said White.
Smith’s motion failed 2 to 3, with Lassetter, Poole and Bob Blackburn opposed.