San Antonio has some impressive examples of sustainable development, but these are sometimes not locally appreciated. An example is the nationally recognized Cuisine Solutions, Inc. complex located in the Brooks area. Its processing facility there has received LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, was named Food Engineering magazine’s 2021 Sustainable Plant of the Year and was named San Antonio Business Journal’s Best Industrial Project in 2021.

San Antonio could learn a lot from this parking lot and implement similar features in other parts of the city.

Solar canopies

Perhaps the most obvious part of the highly sustainable complex is the nearly 500-space parking lot. According to the solar canopy installer Big Sun Solar, nearly 60% of the spaces are covered with solar panels that annually generate nearly 1.4 megawatt hours of electricity, enough to power 10 average San Antonio residences. The almost 2,500 solar panels used in the solar canopies were manufactured by Mission Solar located only about a mile away from Cuisine Solutions.

The solar canopies are part of CPS Energy’s largest community solar program, which they chose Big Sun Solar to build and manage. The solar panels in the parking lot are owned by 86 individual CPS Energy customers. All of the electricity is sold back to the CPS Energy grid, and the owners of the panels receive a credit on their CPS Energy bill each month based on the electricity generated. Since the panels are offsite, the homeowners do not have to worry about maintenance or insurance.

Pervious concrete and bioswales

The uncovered parking spaces at Cuisine Solutions, Inc. are paved with pervious concrete which allows stormwater to infiltrate directly into the ground and helps cool the parking lot through the evaporation of water from the ground. Strategically placed bioswales capture stormwater runoff in order to avoid sending stormwater into a sewer system.

The bioswales have native plants, including trees, in them which slow down the flow of the stormwater and help to cool the parking lot as well. On a 95-degree day, an asphalt parking lot can reach 140 degrees while grass in the sun will only be 105 degrees. The pervious concrete paving is also cooler than asphalt, particularly after recent rain.

This low-impact development, or LID, approach saves construction costs by reducing the amount of pavement, curbs, gutters, drains, pipes and other infrastructure. A nationwide review by the EPA found that capital cost savings ranged from 15% to 80% using LID.

While LID can save site construction costs, it also results in community-wide benefits such as reduced water pollution and water treatment costs. For this reason, the San Antonio River Authority has a green infrastructure program that encourages LID and other environmentally benign projects, even providing grants and rebates for some of them.

Multimodal transportation

Employees and visitors have a complete menu of travel modes to access the site. This improves the safety of the facility as well as enhances its sustainability. The complex is served by a bus stop on VIA’s Brooks Transit Center route 32. A wide, landscaped sidewalk with a generous buffer separating it from the curb also serves the site.

There is a painted bike lane on Sous Vide Way, but, when I was there, cyclists were more comfortable using the wide sidewalk keeping with cyclists’ preference to be physically separated from automobiles. The Cuisine Solutions parking lot also features bicycle parking under the shade of a solar canopy.

Covered parking is a valuable commodity for parking both cars and bicycles. Vehicles are protected from the weather as well as kept relatively cool. Gasoline-powered cars have been found to be more fuel efficient if parked in the shade due to less fuel evaporation and energy spent cooling the vehicle cabin. Electric vehicles have also been accommodated in this model parking lot. Shaded, free, electric vehicle charging is also provided by Cuisine Solutions. At San Antonio’s Airport Security Parking, for example, users pay an additional $2 per day to park under cover. Shaded parking is an employee benefit at Cuisine Solutions.

As San Antonio continues to develop and redevelop, the city would benefit from incorporating the features of the Cuisine Solutions parking lot into other areas.