Adventures in Front Entry Site Planning
“There are a lot of aspects to consider when site planning for land development projects,” says senior landscape architect Jeff Westendorf. “Besides the basics of reviewing city code for building and parking setbacks, allowable land uses, parking requirements, and landscape criteria, there are additional due diligence items to review including existing and proposed easements, site topography, views and shadow studies, and overall building and parking orientation. The list of things to consider is almost endless!”
One area of site planning in particular which can cause a lot of issues is the layout of front entry areas for retail or industrial uses – the space located between the parking lot and the front door. In early planning stages this area is designed with quick offset dimensions with the assumption that fine details will be worked out later. However, if these spaces are too tight to begin with there may be a real design issue down the road. The following are some factors to consider when designing this space.
What all needs to be planned for?
Throughout the architectural design process, the following items can possibly change:
- Building sizes
- Architectural elements
These changes affect site planning from preliminary to construction level documents. Preservation of adequate user space for critical items is paramount as dimensional changes in the building of even six inches can have serious ramifications.
It’s best to brainstorm about all the possible scenarios that make up an entrance space and plan accordingly until the list has been vetted and refined. Basic features such as sidewalks, greenspaces, planting beds, ADA ramps, signs and bollards, drop off and pickup areas, light poles, fire hydrants, car door swings, and bumper overhangs are all possible items to consider. Additional considerations like seating, gathering, and outdoor program functions can greatly increase the need for more space. ADA access standards add an additional element of space planning, as the desired ramp styles being used can dramatically change the flow and area requirements.
Front stoop coordination
Another design element that can create challenges during construction is coordinating the front stoop with the architect. Designers need to know the exact location, size, and slope of these stoops. Movement of doors and stoops of inches to several feet can cause a chain reaction in redesign, including maximum design sidewalk slopes as well as landscape and irrigation areas. To avoid numerous redesigns, more stoops are now being designed to extend along the entire facade of the building. This allows for doors to shift along the facade as needed without having to redesign the sidewalk.
Asking questions early and often while designing this space is crucial. A new stoop designed one foot deeper with a different slope next to an ADA parking stall can require a full redesign on layout and grading plans, and usually there are other constraints that may or may not be able to be adjusted to accommodate the change. Generally speaking, a 12-15’ width is a good starting point for preliminary design efforts from building to back of curb.
Space for social distancing
Current public health and safety issues are also increasing the need and desire for outdoor seating as well as drive-through accommodations in commercial development designs. Limitations on occupancy due to COVID-19 may be with us for some time, and new options are needed for some retail businesses to stay viable. For example, the creation of outdoor seating can be achieved by taking out front parking spaces, and this can be done either permanently or temporarily.
Starting with a “bigger is better” mentality in commercial front entry space design is a smart philosophy, understanding that all of the other competing interests for space will come to bear as the final design is developed. The design and layout of this space can be one of the most important efforts on the property. Whether it’s for customers, guests, or employees, front entry spaces want to feel welcoming and comfortable with a smart blend of appeal, function, form, and flow.