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It's not easy being green

Businesses don't get off cheap when it comes to landscaping required of new developments or renovations.

By SHARON L. BOND, Neighborhood Times Business Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 13, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- Somewhere between figuring the new building needed 27 tons of air-conditioning and wishing he had ordered more than two washers that can handle 80 pounds of clothes, Scott Broughton had to deal with landscaping.

Specifically -- because the city said so -- he had to buy a garden for his Garden's Laundromat. It included:

-- Five 3 1/2-inch diameter live oaks, $2,625.

-- 10 12-feet high crape myrtles, $2,750.

-- 460 one-gallon pots of jasmine, $2,300.

-- 196 three-gallon pots of Indian hawthorn, $1,960.

-- 30 yards of bulk cypress mulch, $1,200.

-- 60 one-gallon pots of Aztec grass, $300.

Then there was the cost of digging out some parking spaces and replacing them with sod and preparing the plant beds that surround the building -- $2,800.

That totals $13,935 for a 200-foot by 100-foot lot and does not include the sprinkler system and well he had to put in, which was another $5,190. All of it was required by the city of St. Petersburg before Broughton could open his business. He's not alone.

"It's beautiful, but it's not necessary. I'm a Laundromat, and I have all this," Broughton said recently. He also owns the Garden's Laundromat at Tyrone Gardens Shopping Center.

Drive down Central Avenue in St. Petersburg or by any recent commercial development or redevelopment, and the greenery is there. It adds aesthetic and ecological value to a project, more so since the city strengthened its rules last March.

But for a smaller business such as Broughton's, the cost of landscaping can be a shock. Even for a bigger company, such as Florida Automotive Distributing Inc., it is a considerable expense. The parent company of Super Parts Automotive and other affiliates renovated the old Montgomery Ward site at Central Plaza in St. Petersburg as a home for Super Parts.

Broughton thought his Central Avenue site would be a $5,000 landscaping job until he saw the city's specific requirements.

To get the required landscape permit for commercial projects, Broughton had to submit a detailed landscape plan showing location, type and number of all vegetation he would put in and the existing trees he would save. He had to fill green yards abutting rights of way and interior, perimeter and foundation landscaping. City codes contain specific requirements for type, quantity and size of trees, shrubbery and other vegetation.

These requirements are not a quirk of St. Petersburg. Other cities also have specific landscaping requirements. The county has its own, and many smaller towns -- such as Kenneth City -- adopt county requirements.

And enforce them.

Jack Wilkinson, building development inspector in Kenneth City, said the subcontractor who prepared the outer space at the new Sonic Drive-In on 66th Street N had to replace some trees he put in.

"His trees were a couple of feet short of what they were supposed to be," Wilkinson said.

Money for landscaping was an expense Broughton never thought about when he was buying the building for $250,000 and planning its $450,000 remodeling to convert the empty Christo's restaurant into a laundry.

It is something the city of St. Petersburg thought about as evidenced by last year's strengthening of landscaping requirements.

"The planning commission made them more stringent," said John Hixenbaugh, the city's zoning official. "Every project is supposed to make improvements to the property, spending 10 percent (of the total value of the project) on landscaping and beautification."

Landscaping can become an architectural element, Hixenbaugh said. One example is when the back of a large building might look onto a major roadway.

"You can back up a blank wall with trees and shrubs," he said.

The larger the project, the greater the landscaping requirements. And when a company has an 81/2-acre parking lot, the requirements can amount to hundreds of trees and lots of money. Ask John Cannon of Florida Automotive Distributing.

"We had to cut up the parking lot and put plants in, trees and ground cover. We had too much impervious surface and too much stormwater runoff," Cannon said.

The company spent $250,000 to fix the parking lot and install hundreds of oaks, palms, magnolias and crape myrtles plus ground cover, shrubs and grassy medians. Florida Automotive Distributing spent about $4-million to purchase and renovate the old department store site, including the landscaping.

Cannon said the company would have landscaped its new home without city regulations. But "we wouldn't have gone to the trouble the requirements had us do." Cannon said the main reason not to do as much is the cost of maintaining the landscaping. He estimates the company spends about $2,500 per month mowing, edging, trimming and treating the landscaping for bugs.

"It's not necessarily the initial cost but the ongoing cost," Cannon said.

Dayton Andrews Dodge dealership in St. Petersburg is about to spend $500,000 on landscaping to improve its corner lots at 22nd Avenue N and 34th Street. It is an established business that is not renovating, so it does not have to do anything. But its competitors up 34th Street N have lush grounds by comparison.

Only a bit of landscaping sits in front of the main sales office.

"Now they are going to do it all the way around the block," said C. Randolph Wedding, whose architectural firm is doing the four-month job. "It will provide a much greener, nicer perimeter."

Hixenbaugh said previous to last year's changes in city codes, parking lots were the main place where landscaping was required. But when some projects had to go before the Environment Development Commission because of needed variances, often they were required to have more landscaping. Also, commercial projects that abut neighborhoods have to have more.

The Sembler Company is renovating the Crossroads Shopping Center in the Tyrone area along with Home Depot, which is building a new store there. Even though construction on the home improvement store is just beginning, landscaping already is in.

"In terms of landscaping, the owner and Home Depot jointly put new landscaping on 18th Avenue. This new landscaping was part of the approval process whereby we worked with the neighborhoods to come up with what everybody was comfortable with," said Craig Sher, president and chief executive officer of Sembler. "We will be re-landscaping the balance of the center but will make every effort to keep as many existing trees as possible."

"I'm proud of what we accomplished," said Broughton, looking at his renovated building and the greenery outside. "It's not something I'm in disagreement with the city about. When I bought the building, I didn't know what had to be done to bring it up to code. That was my error."

Now that everything is in, "I think we have done our part to beautify Central Avenue," Broughton said.

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