Minneapolis’s Uphill Battle with Sprucing Up Parking Lots Continues

Many people can look at the parking lot situation in Minneapolis and wonder why the city doesn’t just hire a Minneapolis commercial asphalt company to take on all of the sprucing up.

The truth is that it isn’t as easy for the city as some would think.

The fact is that the situation is not the responsibility of the city alone, but the responsibility of the parking lot owners. The city is not able to encroach on the parking lot owner’s property and say, “hey, we are going to fix this for you.” Instead, the city has told the owners that it is their responsibility to meet the city’s strict beautification requirements that are specified in the city’s code.

The rules state that the parking lots should be lined with a 7- or 9-foot grassy buffer along the sidewalk, a fence of three feet high, or a hedge of the same height. They also need trees every 25 feet.

This initiative by the city reflects a much broader attempt to convert or camouflage the parking lots throughout the downtown area. This has much to do with the multi-story ramps and the number of residents that are now living in downtown apartment buildings. The city has even banned new surface lots from being built for now.

However, the plan hit a major snag after an owner successfully challenged the authority of the city to enforce the requirements that it put in place in 1999. This particular owner has had lots in the city for quite some time. His successful appeal now threatens to unravel the enforcement of the city since many parking lot owners could make an argument very similar to his.

Some lot owners are now waiting to see what move the city makes now. Minneapolis has said that they will revisit the matter in the spring, as one Council Member said that he is not giving up on enforcing the requirements.

However, lot owners have shown resistance to the requirements because installing buffers between the sidewalks and parking lots would take away pavement space, which could eat into their profits.

One lot owner said to the media that he believes the city knows that adding buffers will eat into lot space and profits, so he feels that they will come up with a solution that won’t necessarily eat into the parking stalls.

The city sent letters to a majority of lot owners in July about bringing their parking lots up to code. They wanted plans submitted by October 15. Most responded and some submitted parking lot plans.

It is possible that if lot owners choose to challenge the enforcement, the city could become more aggressive in enforcing the older rules. In the past, some of the lot owners opted for the screen option instead of the grassy buffer and now they are dealing with broken fences. Some of them paved over corner landscaping years ago.

The city planner said that all they really want to do is get the lots looking better. It is said that the landscaping is needed to capture the rainwater that floods the storm sewers.

Minneapolis isn’t the only city looking to lot owners to make changes. St. Paul also has requirements and theirs is a 4-foot grassy buffer, a 3 foot high screen, and one tree every five parking spaces.