Put Your Best Face Forward: Parking Belongs in the Rear

Put Your Best Face Forward: Parking Belongs in the Rear

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published October 14, 2013 and can be found here.

Much commercial development in Rochester places the parking lot between the sidewalk and the building. Can we change this?

     By       Mike Governale

There's a new development called     I-Square

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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

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. 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%

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. That means 70% of the width of the lot needs to be occupied by the building's front facade. 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 naivete 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.

Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA