At the Zoning Board of Adjustments meeting on Sept. 20, Brian George, a representative of Optivest Properties, requested a zoning variance for an apartment that is a part of their RightSpace Storage property located on 7 Mohawk Dr.
The apartment has been a part of the building – which is simply attached to the storage units – since the site’s construction in the 1980’s. In 1983 the Londonderry Planning Board said there couldn’t be an apartment there, only an office. Apart from this meeting, there has been no mention of the apartment, though it has been there all this time.
Optivest purchased the property in February 2016 and was not aware that the apartment was not allowed to be there because many storage companies will often have an on-site employee who lives on the property. In this case, however, the current tenant is a resident of Londonderry and has no affiliation with the company.
George, who has managed over 40 self-storage properties throughout his career, told the board that the apartment is not contrary to the public’s interest; there have been no complaints and Optivest didn’t even know the apartment was illegal until the current tenant went to register his car and was told that his residence was in violation of Londonderry Zoning Ordinance 2.2.2.
George often vocalized that his case is not very convincing, argued that “self-storage apartments are pretty common place and they add to the security of the property” because they act inadvertently as a type of neighborhood watch. Without someone living there, he argued, the property would be more likely to succumb to theft and acts of vandalism.
“I know I’m not making the most compelling case in the world,” he said, “And I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s been there for 34 years. You could probably check with the Londonderry Police Department – I bet there’s been very few, if any, probably zero break-ins at the property and I think a contributing factor for that is that somebody is living there.”
The apartment consists of one bedroom, a kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom – currently one male tenant occupies the space and pays $1,000 a month to rent it.
Usually with apartment like this, according to George, businesses will appoint an employee on the property to occupy the space, but Optivest is trying to get away from that because of liability issues: if the employee is hurt while in their apartment, the company would be liable. Unless a public resident tenant could prove neglect of the company in regards to upkeep of the building, the company would not be responsible if a tenant got hurt.
“It’s not any more dangerous than a regular apartment building,” George assured the board.
The property currently has a barbed wire fence surrounding the storage units, office, and apartment, as well as a key padded security gate and 6 security cameras.
The board was unconvinced that this apartment does anything for the public interest, and only supplies extra revenue for the property owners, Member Suzanne Brunelle said, “we zone so that they don’t have residential property in commercial areas.”
The board voted to deny the variance, which will ultimately end up costing Optivest $15,000, according to George’s calculations: $5,000 for demolition and $10,000 to rebuild that part of the building into more storage units.