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Up On The Roof: The Legalese Behind Green Roofs and Rooftop Farms

Stephanie Alarcon, PSU Master Gardener Zhenya Fomin, ECA, Masters of Sustainable Design

Who are we?

Stephanie Alarcón, PSU Master Gardener Zhenya Fomin, ECA, Masters of Sustainable Design

Who are you and what do you hope to learn?

Greening roofs is a Good Thing
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Reduces urban heat island effect Helps with heating and cooling Improves stormwater management Provides pollinator habitat Gardening increases local food availability Connection to plants for people with small yards

Stormwater in Philadelphia
Annual Rainfall: Watershed:
40-45” inner city streams covered, impervious surface increased

Source of drinking water: Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers Drinking water treatment: Storm water runoff: Waste Water:
River 540 M gallons per day capacity causes 80-90% of water pollution

Three treatment plants discharging into Delaware

Combined Sewer Overflows

That's Why We Started PROOF
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The Philadelphia Rooftop Farm Started with some planters on a friend's deck Won a design grant from Community Design Collaborative for planter design We're hopeful but we've hit some bumps...

Physical Barriers

Strength of roof rafters, deck, side walls/party walls Danger of water penetration Additional live/dead load, wind concerns Ball park figure for structural engineer

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Green Roof Structure

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Steel base Insulation Membrane Root barrier Drainage layer Separation Layer Growth medium Foliage
Figure 2. Generic Extensive Green Roof. Courtesy of Optigrün Intl. AG

Structural Requirements

Type Extensive Semi-Intensive

Depth 6” or less 25% above or below 6”

Saturated Weight PSF 10-35 lb 35-50 lb


More then 6”

35-300 lb


Budget Considerations

Type Extensive Semi-Intensive

Installed cost $7-30 PSF $25-50 PSF

Contributing Factors Design, Permits, Inspections Waterproofing, Height, Logistics Structural Reinforcements, Total SF Wage Requirements, Plant mix


$50 +++ PSF

Irrigation, Leak Detection Maintenance, Final Use


What is “Up To Code”?
Zoning code Appropriate use A garden on top of a hazardous industrial building is an inappropriate use Revision in process, Last code revision 1962 642 pages 55 zoning classifications Dozens of special district controls Source: Zoning Building code Safety A garden 5 stories high with no railing is unsafe Phila uses the International Building Code with some modifications

Zoning Matters!
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Code revision news on Protect public health, safety and welfare by regulating land use and building parameters Early on: prevent overcrowding and limit incompatible uses. Modern: transit-oriented development, pedestrian-friendly commercial corridors, and preservation of the historic fabric of neighborhoods. Source:

Zoning Does Matter...

Current code contains these Classes of Districts (see link in handout) (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) (f) (g) Residential Districts. Commercial Districts. Industrial Districts. Recreational Districts. Trailer Camp Districts. Sports Stadium Districts. Institutional Development Districts.

R5 – One type of single family residential


C2 - Mixed Use Commercial

All C1 uses Antiques, Books, Drugs, Produce, Butcher, Jewelry, Barber, Bank, Day care for 12 or few children (except in the 6th & 10th Councilmanic Districts), Florist, Laundry, Funeral parlor... Plus Restaurants, Catering, pet-related uses, Post Offices, including single family or duplex dwellings. Source: /238

What zone are you?

Proposed Changes

Urban Agricultural Use Category: Specific inclusion of rooftops for Community Gardens and Market or CommunitySupported Farms.

Why zoning code exists

Can you build a green roof or rooftop garden without
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Making enemies of your neighbors Making money from a building that isn't supposed to make money Messing with the character of the street?

Why Building Code Exists

Can you make sure
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It won't fall through the roof You or your agents can get up safely and won't fall off It won't wreck any walls or your neighbor's roof It's not a fire hazard?

Going legal
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Permit cost Engineer cost Time at L&I Possible new structures Occasionally they'd rather you ask for forgiveness than permission...

So You Want To Go To L&I...
For a green roof:

Building permit. Need plans stamped by architect or engineer

Or not...

L&I reviews plans and inspects final product Height variance over 1', except railings. Plants won't trigger (especially if high-growing plants are to the back) but fence or pilot house might depending on the zone Visibility from the street: Some neighborhoods want consistent cornice line from street, would reject variance in zoning meeting A pilot house or fence (3' min.) is required if a building owner wants access to the green roof Source: Email from Urban Ecoforms and Zhenya Fomin

Metropolitan Bakery Example

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Engineer's liability Snow load at different historical periods Roof deck core samples Point loading around structural columns

PROOF's Experience

Safety, convenience, full sun, proximity to homeowner, access to water (and power) Food justice and access, how to sell/donate produce Why residential first CDC report: modular planters Big residential costs: Roof access, engineer's stamp, and railings Now considering commercial

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Rooftop Gardens in Philly
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Noble restaurant 4 Seasons hotel Sheldon Crossing, a new platinum-LEED townhouse development in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia Garden Court Plaza in the late 1920’s West Philadelphia, ‘Milk & Honey’ Community beehives Source: Phigblog

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Rooftop Farms Elsewhere

NYC: Gotham Greens, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Brooklyn Grange Uncommon Ground Restaurant, Chicago: 6 tons when wet! Lufa Farms, Montreal Minneapolis: Sky High Harvest Rooftop Farm Milwaukee's Community Growers CSA

Green Roofs in Philly

PECO Friends Center Public Library Comcast Center Fencing Academy Schuylkill Education Center Swarthmore College Temple Ambler Onion Flats Bancroft Green luxury homes

Green Roofers in Philly
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Cory Suter, BioNeighbors G Space – Green walls and roofs, commercial design/build Roofscapes/Roofmeadows – GRASS is a certified installer Urban Ecoforms Green Roof Works

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City Hall 20,000 sq ft green roof Saved $25,000 in utilities 20012007 Bird habitat

Zoning Ordinance:Roofs greater than 10,000 must have 50% green roof

The Netherlands

Schiphol International Airport, Amsterdam
Source: Michigan State University


Coast Plaza Hotel, Vancouver, BC
Source: Michigan State University

Incentives Green Roof Tax

25 % of installation Up to $100,000 off business privilege tax Commercial only

PWD Storm Water Management Fees

Four year transition Parcel based billing for impervious surface Commercial only


Philly Green Roof Tax Credit

Commercial only, Reduces Business Privilege tax 50% of the roof or 75% of “eligible roof top space” should be greened Engineer certifies:

Surface and structrural capacity are ok Plans include irrigation and drainage Safe access for maintenance

City credits 25% of the cost of building against business privilege tax up to $100,000 Application: Instructions:

Bottom line

Green roofs are gaining acceptance, and incentives for large buildings and new construction are working in other places Roof gardens could be next The big issues are access and safety Funding needed to expand market penetration beyond luxury new construction and instituational facilities Low interest financing mechanisms City-hired structural engineers

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Some Rooftop Farming Initiatives

PROOF, The Philadelphia Rooftop Farm NYC: Gotham Greens, Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, Brooklyn Grange Uncommon Ground Restaurant, Chicago: 6 tons when wet! Lufa Farms, Montreal Minneapolis: Sky High Harvest Rooftop Farm Milwaukee's Community Growers CSA /HomePage

Green Roof Incentives and Resources – check for info on incentives PA Stormwater Best Management Practices vegetated roof guide Courses by Cory Suter Parternship CDC green roof course Philadelphia Water Departments' Green Roof Guide Philadelphia Water Departments' Green Roof Guide::// Stormwater Management Guidance Manual; CH 7 has green roof criteria in the first section. See: Credit related info: How properties can implement green infrastructure on their properties to get a credit. Cory Suter, GRP Principal BioNeighbors Sustainable Homes

Code Resources

Existing zoning code at delphia_pa/thephiladelphiacode? f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:philadelphia _pa New zoning commission: To find how a property is zoned: International building code: