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Chasing pavement change: Councilman wants prettier parking lots

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Did you know parking lots in Minneapolis have to meet a series of landscaping standards? The standards haven't really been enforced – but one official wants to change that.

Minneapolis councilman Jacob Frey is pushing for surface parking lot owners to comply with the city's beautification requirements, according to Frey's website. Frey was recently elected to the Minneapolis City Council for Ward 3, which includes 10 neighborhoods in Northeast Minneapolis. The city's parking surfaces, which he calls "the bane of downtown," are one of the reasons he ran for city council.

There more than 70 pay lots in downtown Minneapolis, the Star Tribune says. Just look at the map published by Streets.Mn that outlines them in red. Note: Green lots are being redeveloped (they are no longer parking or are empty) and yellow lots have new uses being planned for them (they won't be parking lots for much longer).

Cracked and covered in potholes, Minneapolis City Hall has frowned upon these expansive parking surfaces because they are unsightly, can't absorb rainwater and are an inefficient use of valuable land for the city, the Star Tribune says.

Currently, if a building is demolished in Minneapolis, a parking lot can't be put in its place. Frey says that's a start, but it could be made better by enforcing the city's landscaping laws that are already in place, yet are rarely followed or enforced.

“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,” Frey told The Journal.

Here's a look at some of those ordinances:

– Strips of land 7 feet or 9 feet wide (depending on the size of the parking lot) must separate parked cars from the sidewalk.
– A fence, wall or hedge must be at least 3-feet tall and be no less than 60 percent opaque to screen views of the lot.
– There must be at least one tree for every 25 feet of parking or loading area frontage – and every parking space must be within 50 feet of a tree. There are also size restrictions for tree islands.
– Corners of parking lots where parking is impossible must be landscaped with things like bike parking, kiosks or benches.

One lot manager told the Star Tribune he's worried complying with these laws will limit the number of parking spots he can sell.

“How do we address the fact that we’re going to be losing a good chunk of stalls in order to meet this ordinance?” Jon Fletcher, the general manager of Minneapolis Parking, a subsidiary of Alatus LLC, said to the newspaper.

Minneapolis Zoning Administration and Enforcement Manager Steve Poor told The Journal it's not the city's intent to make people lose parking stalls, so the city plans to work with the lot owners to find how they can better comply with standards while keeping as many spaces as possible.

City leaders are saying eliminating surface lots will not mean there will be less parking downtown. Developments of some lots are already in the works and parking spaces can – and likely will be – incorporated into the construction plans. Also, lots used by businesses for free customer parking will not be affected, the Star Tribune says.

The current proposal is still in its early stages, the Star Tribune says, but it will likely tie these enforcements to license renewals, which are due by Sept. 1. Renewal notices will be mailed out May 1 and lot owners will have about a year to develop a plan to comply with the city's standards, Frey told the Star Tribune. After reviewing the plan, the city would give them an additional year to make the changes, the newspaper says. If they don't comply, lot owners could lose their license, The Journal says.

Frey says that Chicago instituted a similar strategy a decade ago and the lots have improved so much that they're called "parking orchards," according to his website.

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