Frey pushes enforcement of landscape requirements for parking lots

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April 2, 2014
By: Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
In an attempt to get rid of, or at least green the glut of surface parking downtown, Council Member Frey calls for existing regulations to be enforced

Ward 3 City Council Member Jacob Frey is pushing an initiative that would require owners of surface parking lots to adhere to the city’s current landscaping requirements or risk losing their operating license.

Minneapolis’ parking lot design requirements already have a series of landscaping standards that were never enforced and rarely followed. According to the ordinance on the books, parking lots must include: 

-- A landscaped yard at least seven feet wide along the public right-of-way, nine feet wide for parking lots with more than 100 spaces.

-- Screening consisting of either a masonry wall, fence, berm or hedge that is at least three feet tall and no less than 60 percent opaque.

-- One tree for every 25 feet of parking or loading area frontage, and every parking space must be within 50 feet of a deciduous tree. Tree islands within the lot have to be at least seven feet wide in any direction.

-- Corners of parking lots where parking is impossible must be landscaped or outfitted with architectural features like bike parking, kiosks or benches.

A walking tour taken by Journal staff along Hennepin Avenue and around the Vikings stadium revealed that few, if any of the Downtown surface parking lots follow any of those requirements.

“It’s not increased enforcement, it’s enforcement, period. There is an ordinance on the books already and now we’re going to start enforcing it,” said Frey, who made eliminating or greening surface parking lots downtown a central part of his campaign platform last fall.

City staff has not yet finalized a plan to begin enforcing the landscaping requirements, but it appears likely that it will be tied to the renewal of commercial parking lot licenses, which are due by Sept. 1 annually.

Under this scenario, a letter would go out in late spring or early summer notifying parking lot owners that they need to either show that they’re in compliance or come up with a plan to get in compliance before their license is renewed. The lots that aren’t in compliance would then have a set amount of time to execute a city-approved landscaping plan, with future license renewals hinging on its completion.

“They’re all getting the same notice, they’re all given some time to get us plans and they’re all given some time to implement that plan, although we haven’t quite agreed on the timing yet,” said Minneapolis Zoning Administration and Enforcement Manager Steve Poor.

Poor said it may be unrealistic to require surface parking lots to undergo a complete redesign to get all the way up to code. Instead he favors an approach where city staff works with parking lot owners to make landscape improvements that prevent the loss of many stalls.

“It’s not the city’s intent to make these people lose stalls because that’s their revenue, so we’re going to have to work with these properties to find out how they can get to closer compliance with the landscaping standards,” he said