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Put Your Best Face Forward: Parking Belongs in the Rear

October 14th, 2013

Much commercial development in Rochester places the parking lot between the sidewalk and the building. Can we change this?
There’s a new development called I-Square external link being built right now in Irondequoit. It’s one of those “new urban” designs with mixed-use buildings placed along the sidewalk and a little public space in the center of it all. Where’s the parking? Right where it should be, behind the buildings, hidden from the street. The end result will be an attractive street front and a destination for people to come and walk around – maybe spend a little time and money. Very exciting.

But right around the corner, on Hudson Avenue, is a proposal for a new Aldi grocery store. It’s the exact opposite of I-Square – a more typical, drive in & drive out, sub-urban design. This got me thinking…

This plan for a new Aldi grocery store in Irondequoit is a good example of a suburban style development that can be made more pedestrian-friendly.
The Aldi plan (shown above) includes a 17,000 sq. ft. grocery store and a 5,000 sq. ft. retail space (I guess this technically counts as “mixed-use”). But as usual, the building is being placed in the center of a giant 94 space parking lot. This doesn’t exactly invite people to walk to it.

Across the street from the Aldi site is Irondequoit Plaza. Walkscore = Fail.
Across the street from this new Aldi is a Wegmans. You can’t actually see the Wegmans in this photo because of the curvature of the earth. Walkscore = FAIL.

If you live in any of Rochester’s suburbs (or even if you don’t) you’re probably used to bouncing from place to place in your car. We all do it. When we go grocery shopping for example, it’s not uncommon for folks to get a few items at a discount place like Aldi, and then run over to Wegmans for some other stuff. Each time hopping back in our vehicle – even if it’s to drive across the street!

Shops on Rochester's Main Street at Water Street. August 23, 1900. [PHOTO: Rochester Municipal Archives]
In the “old days” people did their shopping on a street where shops were strategically placed very close together – and the front door was always located at the sidewalk where it was easy to get to. Like us, our great grandparents didn’t do all their shopping at one store either. But they could easily bounce from one shop to another on foot.

This begs the question: Can we retrofit our suburbs (which are not at all designed to be walkable) and begin to make them into places that are at least somewhat walkable? Or must we continue to accept more of the same?

I decided to get my crayons out and do some sketches to see if it would even be possible for Aldi to move their building up to the sidewalk and place the parking behind it…

By moving the buildings to the sidewalk, and the parking in the rear, we can make this store easier to walk to, and the street a little more attractive.
Here’s one alternative. The building dimensions are kept the same. Loading docks and all the parking fit nicely in the rear. And now we have a proper row of store fronts along the street.

Here's another alternative.
Here’s another alternative with the Aldi and the retail flip flopped. This seems to work too. Same square footage… Same ridiculous amount of parking… But now the front door is placed at the sidewalk where it should be.

Why wouldn’t Aldi prefer this anyway? Their business would actually be more visible from the street. And the parking would be easier to secure. Seems like a no-brainer.

Chipotle on Mount Avenue got it right. Certainly we do more of this.
We can even look at some recent examples here in Rochester. This is the Chipotle on Mount Hope Ave. Granted, the burrito chain probably wouldn’t have built this way if it weren’t required by the City’s zoning code.

Perhaps there’s something in Irondequoit’s zoning code that requires commercial buildings to be set back behind a giant parking lot?

There certainly are parking minimums external link. But 94 spaces is actually twice the town requirement! (It’ll be interesting to see if these spaces ever fill to capacity).

And here’s something interesting… the code says there’s a minimum frontage build-out of 70% external link. That means 70% of the width of the lot needs to be occupied by the building’s front façade. I would think “front” means the street side of the lot. But what do I know. Admittedly, I’m lost in all this.

So today I will take my amateur drawings, a written letter, and my naiveté to the Irondequoit Planning Board. I will ask them to flip the Aldi plan around and put the parking where it belongs – in the rear!

We’ll see what they say. Stay tuned.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 14th, 2013 at 1:00 am and is filed under Opinion, Rochester News, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

16 Responses to “Put Your Best Face Forward: Parking Belongs in the Rear”

  1. Kay says:

    The problem is that streets are often widened after the building is built, so these buildings would eventually be about four feet from car traffic.

  2. RaChaCha says:

    One of the factors behind this is that big-box retailers like to build fast, build everywhere, and build cheap — if you’re mass producing stores like widgets, you don’t want to have to custom-design each one, for each site, in each community context. Rachel Barnhart tweeted a link to an article about this just yesterday that’s worth a read for some insight on this:
    http://www.architectmagazine.com/business/greenbergfarrow-texas-roadhouse-chains-big-box-architect-sprawl.aspx?printerfriendly=true

  3. RaChaCha says:

    Also, out of curiosity: does the same person write all the articles on this site? Just asking, as I didn’t see a byline.

  4. DJ says:

    Excellent, and simply put. The people building these things want it done fast & cheap with no road-blocks. Towns want the business so they just let companies walk all over them. Thank you for trying to show the town,Irondequoit in this case, that there’s long-term benefit in requiring slight adjustments. Good job.

  5. @Kay, I haven’t seen a street widening project around here for a long time. If anything our streets should be (and are in fact) getting slimmer. Maybe except to put a bike lane?

    I think @RaChaCha is correct. The big boxes want to expand as quick as possible, and towns will bend over backwards to accommodate them so their tax base keeps growing.

    But if more and more towns start asking for the same thing, I have to imagine these businesses will catch on quick and develop a few alternative plans that allow them to build to the sidewalk in a very repeatable way. First step would be convincing our towns to ask for it.

    @RaChaCha, all articles are written by Mike Governale unless otherwise indicated in the bi-line.

  6. AmyRyb says:

    I think part of the issue is the convenience for getting back to your car with a cart load of groceries. In order to make things convenient for both walkers and drivers, you’d really need two cash registers…one at the sidewalk side and another at the parking lot side. Because if you only have one, one group or the other is going to have to walk back through the whole store to get back on their way. I’m going to guess most companies don’t want to spend the extra money on something like that, or worry about the security issues of having two entrance/exit points. Just a thought…

  7. @AmyRyb, I completely understand your point. And with very slight interior floorplan adjustments, two entrances/exits are definitely possible. In fact very little modification would need to be done with the typical Aldi’s floorplan. They have an interior lobby at one corner of the building, and on that same side they have a row of registers. Behind the registers (on the same side as the doors) they have a customer bagging counter. So if they keep one set of doors where they typically are, and put another door at the other end of the bagging counter, problem should be solved. They may have to move the manager’s office slightly.

    I don’t have an interior floorplan drawing to post here, but it works beautifully in my mind :-)

    Also, see South & Hickory Place on South Ave. Another new construction with primary entrance at the sidewalk and parking lot behind. This sort of thing isn’t one-size fits all. It just asks for a little extra thought.

  8. Jen H says:

    Yes! Hopefully this kind of design is making a comeback. There is a book about designing cities to be more pedestrian-friendly, called Walkable City by Jeff Speck. The author makes a great case for walkable design–it brings in more business (as you pointed out), and it also brings more young, bright people to live in the city. Thank you for posting! I hope you win hearts at the Planning Board.

  9. Mittens says:

    This is a no brainer. It makes absolutely ZERO sense to NOT place parking behind the buildings.

  10. Erik says:

    The trick is… many local architecture firms make a lot of money working for the big box stores. They use a standard prototype and just tweak it for each new site. This saves a lot of money on architecture fees. Besides, most of the time, the owner wants the store to start construction tomorrow. Revised prototypes can go out the door in a few weeks versus many, many months for a totally new store design. Bergmann Associates produces dozens of sets of plans for Walmart, TD Bank, Wegmans, etc every year in very short turn around time. If an owner has to spends a six-figure number to re-engineer plans for Rochester, he just won’t build here, nor will he wait the several months needed….. Just a fact of the development business.

  11. Mike says:

    Great post. Towns must change their zoning laws for the better quality of life for their citizens. Otherwise prime examples like the Aldi proposal will continue to favor the laughable big box store design over the health and vibrancy of a community. I work in an architectural firm and have experience with all types of development projects including prototypes for Aldi and they absolutely have the resources to fit their building on the proposed site with the parking in the rear. This is not an issue with Aldi, this is a issue with the Town’s archaic and pathetic zoning code. Build smart, build sustainable, and put the pressure on the Town of Irondequoit.

    “they paved over a paradise and put up a parking lot”

    Mike

  12. Peter says:

    I think the corner of Monroe and Goodman is a great example of the rear-parking design. The corner has 4 national chains, all with rear-lot parking. Not only does the street look better, I think it makes the parking lots easier to access because the entrances are set away from the busiest part of the intersection.

  13. kmannkoopa says:

    The solution to this problem in the future is simple. If the residents push their municipality to change their zoning code, it will get changed. Irondequoit just recently changed its zoning code regarding senior housing. About 5 years ago the zoning code was changed for Medley Center back when it had aspirations.

    Now that the inner suburbs (Greece, Irondequoit, Brighton, Gates) are more or less fully developed, they need to look at revamping their zoning code to promote infil. Brighton has largely done this, like the City, their zoning is mostly adaptive (by restricting font yards, buldings setback the same distance along streets, and a few others). Nearly all of the villages of Monroe County have nearly these restrictions in place already.

    All it will take is for residents of the Towns to care. Look no further than what is happening with the apartments in the Village of Pittsford or the Town of Henrietta. In both cases zoning laws have split their boards. In Pittsford it led to the Mayor switching parties, and in Henrietta the incumbent supervisor was beaten in the primary in no small part over the development of off-campus RIT apartments.

  14. Linda says:

    The design of the buildings at the corner of Monroe and Goodman resulted from the neighbors and citizens fighting for a more urban, pedestrian friendly and less automobile oriented development. Keep fighting for better development.

  15. Jason Haremza says:

    So what did Irondequoit end up doing? I assume the store was approved per the crappy design?

  16. @Jason, the town is requesting to be the “lead agency” or something. So they need sign off from MCDOT and some other agencies. I was told this will take some time. There is another planning board meeting this coming Monday… I may know more after that.

    But I did get a nice email from Mary Joyce D’aurizio the day after I submitted my documents. She thanked me for “submitting such fantastic suggestions that should be considered…”

    We shall see.


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