Where do you spend your free time or work on your hobby?

There is a concept in community planning and place making involving three separate but important social environments (or places) where people spend their time.  The first two places are one’s home and one’s workplace.  “Third places” generally include public or community places where people socialize or recreate, including places of worship, health clubs, bars and pubs, restaurants, stores, parks, community centers, etc.  Now developers are creating new third places by combining the “man cave” and “she shed” concepts with mini-storage.  These third places are known as luxury garage units or “car condos.”

The concept is simple.  Rather than renting or leasing unconditioned dead storage space for vehicles, household items or recreational equipment in traditional mini-storage units, luxury garage units are made available for purchase as condominium units and are fully conditioned.  Most provide a full range of utilities and services including water, sewer, gas, electricity, cable and internet.  Luxury garage units, ranging from approximately 1,000 square feet to nearly 4,500 square feet, combine form with function.  They are customizable and can include any number of amenities and enhancements including lighting, flooring, wallcoverings, stairs, lofts, TVs, refrigerators, furniture, bars and restrooms.  Instead of simply being infrequently visited places only for storing vehicles, these luxury garage units are designed as destinations for displaying prized vehicles (e.g., exotic or classic cars, RVs and boats), as well as places for getting away or hanging out with buddies.  Many of these luxury garage units include lifts, display racks, beefed up tool benches and other service equipment for restoring or maintaining vehicles and toys.  Some even include private golf simulators.  The exterior of these luxury garage unit developments are secure and attractive, including landscaping and other building façade enhancements.  Some of these developments even include a clubhouse for use by unit owners and their invited guests.

Most comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances do not expressly permit or even contemplate these luxury garage units.  Under current zoning ordinances, these luxury garage units may be considered mini- or self-storage facilities, which typically are limited to industrial or intensive commercial areas.  They also may be considered private clubs, clubhouses or indoor commercial recreation facilities.  In order to accommodate these luxury garage units, municipal plans and zoning ordinances may need to be revised to expressly define and permit these uses in areas deemed most appropriate and desirable, which may be mixed use districts or revitalization districts.  Luxury garage units may be appropriately located in the same zoning districts as urban communities, traditional neighborhood developments, owner-occupied apartment complexes and senior living developments given the smaller lot and dwelling unit sizes prevalent in those development-types.  Alternatively, luxury garage units could be an integral element of such residential developments.

Keep an eye out for these new third places coming to your community or a community near you.  As always, we encourage developers and municipalities to continue to be creative and to collaborate, especially for creating third places.  Please feel free to contact any member of the McNees Wallace & Nurick Land Use Group for assistance with any land use or development issues or if you have any questions regarding this post.