'It's all they talk about': Permeable parking lot piques food shoppers' interest

When Jennifer Heagle opened the new location for food specialty shop Red Apron, she didn't expect the parking lot to be a main talking point.

Eco-friendlier parking lot creates a buzz at new location of central Ottawa shop

Red Apron co-owner Jennifer Heagle insisted on an ecologically sound alternative to asphalt for her parking lot, choosing to install a permeable surface. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

When Jennifer Heagle opened the new location for food specialty shop Red Apron, she didn't expect the parking lot to be a main talking point.

"We have this beautiful space that we've created to cook really good food, and the number one question people have is 'Tell me about this parking lot,'" said Heagle, who is a co-owner.

"It's all they talk about."

Rather than asphalt, the parking lot at the Red Apron's new location on Gladstone Avenue, just down the street from its old home, is covered in gravel, held in place by a grid made of recycled plastic.

The result, said Heagle, is a surface that supports large vehicles while minimizing the ecological impact.

"Instead of washing all of the rain into the storm sewers, it drains into the soil," she said.

The parking lot also avoids a petroleum-based product like asphalt, lowers the lot's "heat island" effect during the summer — whereby uncovered parking lots contribute to higher temperatures — and there is an expected 90 per cent reduction in the use of road salt during the winter.

The permeable surface consists of a grid made of recycled plastic, filled with gravel and capable of supporting loaded trucks. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

'Positive contribution to the city'

Heagle said when she and her partners decided to build a new shop, the site's parking lot was in a terrible state with several layers of asphalt re-paved over the years.

"We were really focused on using environmentally friendly solutions whenever we could, and the big question was the parking lot. 'What are we going to do with it?'" she said.

Heagle's contractor suggested the permeable product manufactured by Purus Ecoraster in Listowel, Ont.

Architect Toon Dreessen
Architect Toon Dreessen argues governments should do more to create incentives for residential and commercial property owners to switch from asphalt to more environmentally friendly surfaces for driveways and parking lots. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

While not new, more residential and commercial property owners have shown interest in ecologically friendly solutions for their parking surfaces, according to Toon Dreessen, president of DCA Architects in Ottawa.

"What this owner has done is make a really positive contribution to the city," he said. "That small step is one small piece of an overall bigger city initiative to fight climate change, and I think more of us need to do that."

Dreessen also said products have become more durable in recent years, with more options available.

According to Purus Ecoraster, their product can handle snow removal as long as the operator is careful not to scrape too close to the gravel, and the surface is still accessible for people using wheelchairs or walkers.

WATCH | Jennifer Heagle on the eco-friendly parking lot:

Permeable parking lot draws attention at Red Apron

2 years ago
Duration 1:27
Featured VideoJennifer Heagle, co-owner of the Red Apron, says the eco-friendly, permeable parking lot at their new location allows water to be reabsorbed into the soil, cutting down on storm drain runoff and pollution caused by asphalt.

As for the price tag, Heagle said the permeable parking lot was more expensive than another layer of asphalt, but comparable to excavating and repaving the entire lot of 15 spaces.

With heavier rainfalls and larger snow melts affecting places like Ottawa, Dreessen said governments need to encourage solutions that ease the pressure on city infrastructures.

"You're spending a bit more capital up front, so there should be some incentive to do so because it's better for the planet," he said.

"Whenever you have an opportunity to do the right thing, you should just do the right thing," Heagle said.