July 6, 2010 By Karen Wilkinson
An artist's rendition of the green parking garage. Photo courtesy VLP Development.
Finding parking in the Chicago neighborhood of Bucktown -- a bustling, vibrant and popular district in the city's north end -- can be unnerving, time consuming and even detrimental to its economy.
"It's a very popular area and has tremendous entertainment, shopping and restaurants," said Vicki Fuller, president of VLF Development, a Chicago-based real estate and urban planning company. It's a desirable destination, but especially in the afternoon and evening it's hard to find parking. "And ultimately that kind of ends up turning on itself," she said. "If it becomes too congested, then people find other places to go because it becomes too much of a hassle to get there."
That reputation may soon get a boost in the green energy area, as Bucktown is set to become home to what the builder says is the nation's first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold-certified automated parking garage.
LEED is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings, according to the U.S. Green Building Council's website. The Gold LEED certification represents one of the highest levels of achievement, Fuller said.
With construction of the Green Park Eco Garage set to begin this month after a city of Chicago permit was awarded, the 104-space garage will feature a planted green roof, be made from recycled construction materials and be emissions free. It will be funded by VLF Development, the only company authorized by Chicago to build automatic parking garages, and will feature patented, fully automated parking system technology.
"In developing this parking facility, we wanted to address many of the concerns that drivers encounter using conventional parking garages," Fuller said in a press release. "That is why it was developed with a mindset of safety, convenience and environmental consciousness."
A call for comment from Chicago officials wasn't immediately returned.
The Green Park Eco Garage will double the parking capacity of traditional garages, feature an on-site attendant and is scheduled for completion by July 2011. Some of its greener aspects include its use of recycled construction materials, electrical power from renewable energy sources and the installation of efficient exterior lighting that avoids contributing to light pollution, according to the company's news release.
One of the greenest aspects of the parking garage is the parking itself. Cars aren't driven to parking spots, but rather moved via a robotic system that uses 125 amps of electricity, with a natural gas backup generator. The planted green roof -- another energy saver -- will collect, filter and slowly dissipate rainwater. And because it's fully automated, there's no need to heat, cool or light the building's interior, aside from the ground-level receiving area, the release stated.
To help deter theft and other vehicle-related crimes, the system will be monitored via video cameras from a centralized command center, the release stated. "Except for the driver, no human hands touch the car, which serves as a strong deterrent to vehicle damage, car break-ins or theft," the release stated.
And convenience is incorporated into the garage's design as much as its green elements. Vehicle parking, car retrieval and payment are all handled at street level in a secure receiving area, and unlike metered street parking, drivers can leave their cars in the garage all day.
Once opened, VLF Development plans to implement an electronic network that integrates with smartphone technologies and other "enhanced communication tools that would allow drivers to more easily access the Green Park reservation system."
Looking to expand over the next three years, Fuller said the company's goal is to build eight to 10 more automated, green parking garages in congested areas of Chicago where traffic has deterred people from frequenting.
"[Bucktown is] very inconvenient to drive around, and around, and around to find a parking space," she said. "It provides a green solution within parking."