• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

U-Haul weighing its options, attorney says

U-Haul International “is deeply disappointed” by a recent Board of Adjustment decision denying its request to open an indoor self-service storage facility in the Lexington Road Plaza, an attorney representing U-Haul told the Sun.

U-Haul continues to consider all of its options, including a legal appeal of the board’s determination that a self-service storage facility was not “of the same general character as the permitted uses” in the highway business (B-4) district, attorney Whitney Dunlap said.

In its motion, the Board of Adjustment (BOA) stated documentation was provided showing several mini-warehouse self-storage facilities located in the light industrial district. And it pointed out an interpretation of the zoning ordinance that allowing a U-Haul self-storage facility in the former Kroger store would apply to all properties zoned B-4.

Prior to the BOA’s action voting down U-Haul’s request, the Versailles City Council passed a resolution stating its opposition to allowing a self-storage facility in a business district.

“I’m not surprised by the outcome,” said Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, himself a vocal opponent. “I think the letter of the law was pretty clear.”

His central concern about allowing U-Haul to operate a self-storage facility in a business district was creating a precedent of allowing other industrial-type users in a retail space, he said. “How,” Traugott asked, “do you stop the next one? And how do you know what the repercussions are going to be?” Furthermore, he described “gobbling up 70,000 square-feet of the most prime retail space we have – at a time when we arguably need retail in Kmart’s absence – is probably short-sided for the benefit of the community.”

Said Dunlap, “U-Haul was quite surprised by the mayor’s unexpected opposition (to an indoor self-storage facility), because this is not an unusual proposal.” He said U-Haul regularly adaptively-reuses vacant retail stores for its rental business.

In response to the opposition, Dunlap said, “U-Haul is a retail operation from head to toe, start to finish. Everything that U-Haul does is retail – retail rentals of their vehicles, retail sales of goods and materials for moving, storage … and retail rentals of the self-service storage units…”

Also, Dunlap said U-Haul would provide necessary services to people in the community, including indoor, secure, climate-controlled storage, with an adaptive reuse of the former Kroger store. “There are some authorized retail uses that this community would cringe to have in that space,” he said.

Dunlap said U-Haul still has a letter of intent from a major farm-type store to locate in the former Kmart and has other prospects to fill other vacant spaces in the Lexington Road Plaza.

Traugott said Versailles needs a big box retail option to provide convenience for its residents, especially those unable to easily commute to a neighboring county. “There’s also the economic effect of bleeding retail dollars across county lines. Because those dollars translate into opportunities for employment, they translate into payroll tax, property tax, and there’s a need,” he said.

“But we’ve got to face the reality that the face of retail is changing every day,” he added. “… Amazon has really reshaped the whole industry.”

As a result of the changing retail industry, Traugott said the willingness of many national retailers to invest in brick and mortar stores has greatly diminished.” Yet, he still believes “a retailer could flourish here.”

On a scale of 1 (very unlikely) to 10 (very likely), Traugott placed the likelihood of Versailles getting a large retailer in the next decade at a 9 and in the next five years at a 6. “The need is there. The demand is there,” he said, but lamented, “A lot of things like this move at the speed of a glacier and sometimes the public loses patience quickly … But I can assure you we at the city and EDA (Economic Development Authority) and Chamber of Commerce … see the need and the desire of the community, and we act accordingly.”

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