West Palm Beach looking to spruce up city rooftops


Fresh off an outdoor art exhibit that splashed murals on blank downtown building sides, the city administration is proposing adding another dimension to its aesthetic aspirations: requiring developers to adorn rooftop parking decks with murals or trees.

With the economy stirring development of high-rise condos, hotels and offices, thousands of visitors, workers and residents now view the city from above every day and current rules don’t do enough to address the ugliness of exposed roofs, City Urban Planner Ana Maria Aponte told the Downtown Action Committee on Wednesday. The board agreed, voting to forward her staff proposal to amend those rules to the city Planning Board for consideration Tuesday and to the City Commission in January.

Under the proposal, developers would be allowed rooftop parking decks but those decks would either have to cover 30 percent of the surface with trees or other irrigated plantings, or screening structures such as trellises, or they’d have to cover the entire deck with an artistic design, which would be coated for waterproofing and sun resistance. The design wouldn’t reduce a building’s other public art requirements.

The city amended its downtown zoning and land development regulations in 2009 to prohibit rooftop parking on new buildings but did not place aesthetic or environmental requirements for roofs, Aponte said. Because of all the new high-rises, roofs have become “a fourth facade for every building,” she said.

Some developers have made the top of their parking garages into attractive pool decks, but others have chosen the less expensive option of placing pools at ground level and leaving the roofs bare and unattractive, she said. By contrast, she showed slides of the landscaped Chicago city hall roof and the painted parking deck of a Miami Design District garage.

“This is what I think what the city should strive for in the future, to include some regulations that really encourage developers to do this, even in locations where they are not using it for amenity decks,” Aponte said. Thirty percent landscaping coverage is similar to what’s required for surface parking lots, she said.

Under her initial proposal, developers who chose a rooftop mural would have had the landscape requirement reduced to 20 percent. But the committee, responding to developer arguments about cost, opted to drop the 20 percent requirement to zero.

Collene Walter, a principal at Urban Design Kilday Studios, told the board that any landscaping requirements for a roof parking deck would add significant costs for construction and maintenance.

“The movement toward allowing some kind of artistic interpretation or mural on the top of a parking deck is a very good step,” said Walter, whose firm is working with the builders of a new 4th District Court of Appeal on Tamarind Avenue, between Clematis and Datura streets. With certain public buildings, whose parking would not be in use 24 hours a day or on weekends, the mural would be fully visible much of the time, she said.

“The idea of having that view unobstructed by landscaping or other structures makes sense,” she said. “When you do a mural on the side of the building, you do not then plant trees in front of it so that it obscures the artistic nature of that design.”



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