YAKIMA, Wash. — Local business owner Mark Needham has earned victory in his storage unit campaign against the city. He will be able to keep his shipping containers in place without adding foundations, and the city will revisit its code.
Earlier this year, the city’s codes department and hearing examiner told Needham he needed building permits and foundations for 11 shipping containers at his storage facility on West Chestnut Avenue. Needham’s containers have been on the property for four years.
Instead of adding foundations, Needham instead embarked on a crusade to get the Yakima City Council to change what he called a nonsensical rule.
He printed 70-page booklets with photos of 240 containers without foundations in Yakima, planning to distribute them to the violators and the City Council. The goal was to show the containers weren’t blowing over and didn’t pose any issues.
The city treated the containers as “structural building elements” because International Building Code — which most U.S. cities base their building codes on — doesn’t specifically address shipping containers. Shipping containers often are used for storage, although some are used as offices or tiny homes.
But just as quickly as his issue arose, it was settled.
Needham was confident his containers wouldn’t blow over and decided to hire an engineer who determined they met wind and other technical standards.
“I’m not going to put a cable over them,” he said. “They’re just there and the city’s going to issue me a permit.”
He’s out some $6,000 he paid for permits, an appeal and the engineering study.
Needham said he didn’t know if the calculations he paid for could be used by other business owners facing shipping container-related violations. But he hopes they will.
“I hoped people who are still in the process will be able to say, ‘According to the article I read in the newspaper, it says that Needham supplied engineering calculations that says the shipping containers meet the ... code. Why should I have to do the same thing?’ That’s my hope,” he said. “Everybody has the right to ask, ‘If Mark didn’t have to put a foundation or tie his down, why should I have to?’”
City spokesman Randy Beehler said Needham’s calculations can’t be applied across the board to other containers because each container is different depending on how it is positioned.
But the city plans to take another look at its code.
“We’re in the process, thanks to Mr. Needham, of developing something that more specifically addresses shipping containers in the city,” Beehler said.
The new section is still in the early stages, and any change would have to be approved by the Yakima City Council.
Beehler said the codes department anticipates having increasingly strict standards based on whether the containers are temporary and accessible to the public.
“Containers like Needham’s that are no longer certified and accessed by the public will likely have requirements similar to what Mr. Needham had to go through with his own engineer and analysis,” he said. “Every one would have to determine if they’re safe based on how they’re positioned and taking into account wind direction and that kind of stuff.”
As far as a timeline, Beehler said the city hopes to have the proposed changes in front of the City Council around the first of the year.