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The Shoppes at Piedmont

Proposed zoning language would boost requirements for trees and green space in commercial parking lots.

After hearing a fair amount of criticism from real estate developers, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission on Wednesday voted to delay any action on proposed parking changes for four weeks.

Commissioners urged Planning Department staff to meet with interested developers, listen to their concerns and try to find some compromises.

"I don't want to vote against this," Commission Chairman Dennis Scheer said. "I think the general concept is solid."

Technically, commissioners did vote 6-1 against a motion to approve the changes. But rather than move the proposal on to the City Council, they voted unanimously to have the proposal come before them again Dec. 12.

The changes, which would involve amending the city's zoning code, were proposed by Planning Department staff. They combine reductions in parking requirements with increased requirements for parking lot landscaping.

It's a sort of "carrot-and-stick" approach, with developers seeing fewer parking requirements to offset having to plant more trees and green space in parking lots.

However, many developers said the parking requirement reductions would offer little benefit to most properties, while the expense and hassle of the new landscaping requirements would be huge.

"I really don't see this as any carrot," said Richard Meginnis, president of commercial real estate firm NAI FMA Realty.

Meginnis said the new landscape requirements would make it harder and more expensive to redevelop areas in core neighborhoods.

Mark Hunzeker, an attorney representing Speedway Properties, went so far as to speculate that projects such as the Starbucks building at 33rd and O streets and the redevelopment of the Piedmont Shoppes would not have been possible if the proposed changes had been in effect.

"This is going to be a real difficult issue for rehabilitation of a lot of places," he said.

The proposed zoning changes would increase the number of trees required in parking lots, require more green space and eliminate certain exemptions. As proposed, the requirements would apply to new construction, as well as remodels and additions that cost at least half as much as the property's value. Remodels that affect only the interior of a building would be exempt.

Lincoln Zehr, president and CEO of Hampton Enterprises, said the landscaping changes would likely hurt small businesses because developers and property owners will recoup their increased costs through rent increases for tenants.

"This is a tax, is what it is," Zehr said. "Because I'm going to pass it on."

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Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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