Green roofs versus green streets Downtown?

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June 27, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

New environmentally conscious rooftops may mean less street-level greenery

Once upon a time, Downtown landscaping meant street level. Not anymore, thanks to the arrival of green roofs.

The concept - which uses rooftop plants and soil to filter stormwater - has environmental and aesthetic benefits. But it also presents the city with a dilemma: if developers propose green roofs, should their obligation to add street-level trees, shrubs and grass be reduced?

The proposed Loring Park Lunds store, 1201-1213 Hennepin Ave. S., could set a precedent.

Lund Food Holdings asked the Minneapolis Planning Commission for permission to eliminate tree islands in its street-level parking lot - in exchange for a larger green roof atop a one-story addition.

Lund representatives said they needed to eliminate the trees to have enough parking. They said the roof would be publicly accessible to shoppers who wanted enjoy a cup of coffee or deli sandwich amid the greenery one story up.

The Planning Commission voted June 13 to give Lund Food Holding all the permits and variances it requested to open the store - but left the parking lot trees in place.

Lund can appeal to the City Council. Officials did not return calls.

Commissioner Robert LaShomb, a 17-year Downtown resident, said he didn't like trading trees for a green roof.

Planning Commissioner Gary Schiff said the city approved new rules for new developments in May. Among the changes, they require a tree within 50 feet of each car in a parking lot and tree islands with a minimum of 7 feet in each direction.

"This is a new requirement in the zoning code," Schiff said. "I am uncomfortable waiving it for the first applicant."

He added that green roofs are a semiprivate space, and questioned "what upper floor greenery did for the general public?"

His stance has put him at odds with Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) who not only represents much of Downtown but also lives in the Bellvue, 1227 Hennepin Ave., S., next door to Lunds and its parking lot.

Goodman said area residents would benefit from the green roof, "because they live in high rises and look down on it."

Further, Goodman and Planning Commission member Michael Krause, said that Lund's' proposed 1,500-square-foot green roof expansion - from 2,500 square feet to 4,000 square feet - would do more to reduce the heat island effect and divert stormwater than two tree islands with approximately 300 square feet of greenspace between them.

Passersby wouldn't see the green roof. Since the building is an historic district, the greening would have to remain below the parapet, the railing along the rooftop.

Asked about the loss of pedestrian-level green space, Goodman said the current parking lot doesn't have one blade of grass, and Lunds is drastically improving the situation. It would add a 7-foot-wide green strip along Hennepin Avenue, a 5-foot wide strip along South 13th Street, an 8-foot-wide strip along the Bellvue - and expand the Bellvue's garden, she said.

The Lund proposal points out a larger problem for the Planning Commission. It doesn't have green roof standards. Schiff said the developer of Le Parisien, 2301-09 Lyndale Ave. S., proposed putting potted plants on the second floor of a building and calling it a green roof.

The Le Parisien project is still under review. The Planning Commission would look at creating green roof standards, Schiff said.

Trees v. parking

A number of arguments were put forward to reduce the Lunds street-level greenery.

Rene of Plumart of DJR Architects, the project architect, said safety is an important neighborhood issue, and the trees would obscure the parking lot lighting.

Planning Commissioner Krause said the lot would be shaded most of the day by the five-story Bellvue to the south. Schiff disputed that, saying the Commission had no shadow study.

Bellvue resident Bob Ries said that residents want Lunds to have adequate parking and questioned greenspace requirements that would reduce parking spaces.

Schiff said Lunds had created its own parking hardship. Its parking lot design had wider drive aisles and parking spaces than code required.

City code requires 22-foot-wide drive aisles and Lund's proposed 24-foot wide aisles, said Hillary Watson, a city planner and point person on the project.

City code requires 8.5-foot-wide by 18-foot-deep parking spaces (and they can be smaller for compacts), she said. Lund's has proposed 27 stalls be 9-foot-wide by 20-foot-deep, plus 24 regular-sized stalls and no compact stalls.

Goodman defended the up-sized parking spaces, pointing to other congested and "chaotic" Uptown grocery store parking lots, such as Kowalski's, 2440 Hennepin, or the Lunds site at 1450 W. Lake St.. "They are trying to learn from the experience of their own lot," she said.

Alternative compliance

Goodman said the Planning Commission should have allowed Lunds to trade the trees for the larger green roof. She said the Commission is allowed to do that under a provision called "alternative compliance."

Schiff said the green roof doesn't technically count as green space, and the Planning Commission had already granted alternative compliance.

The zoning code requires a site have 20 percent landscaping, not counting the building. According to Watson's report. Lund's initial plan had 13 percent greenspace, or more than 1,800 square feet shy of code. That was before Lunds proposed eliminating its two undersized tree islands.

Schiff said the Planning Commission approved Lunds' site plan - with the tree islands - even though it still fell short of the 20 percent landscaping target, because of the green roof.

Wood bricks

The new Lunds is also in the Harmon Historic District, so it also has to get city Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) review.

The HPC OKed the plan, but with conditions. One sticking point is the wood pavers in the alley behind the building, a last remnant of that type of paving in Minneapolis.

The 50-to-70-foot stretch of wood pavers are barely visible, mostly covered by blacktop. Lund wants to remove them and replace them with more durable brick. The HPC said the wood pavers need to stay as part of the historic fabric of the district.

"Any damage incurred to the alley during construction must be repaired/replaced in-kind, and all such work must be approved by the HPC staff," the HPC approval said.

Goodman opposes that requirement. She said the HPC wouldn't know the wood alley existed if she had not invited staff for a walking tour of the area to show off the job St. Thomas did with the brick alley between the 1100 blocks of Harmon Place and Hennepin Avenue.

"Apparently the HPC staff feels they have to extract one more pint of blood," Goodman said.