D.C.'s eco code

Before the D.C. Council decides to weasel out of imposing a “green code” on new buildings, it should check out 500 New Jersey Ave., the near-Hill building opened in 2004 that is the city’s first ecologically correct office structure.

Of course building companies are howling already, but legislation proposed by Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham (D) and seconded by Chairwoman Linda Cropp (D) and members Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and Phil Mendelson (D-At large) demands that all new office, multiuse and apartment buildings be environment-friendly. Next month, the council is to decide how far to go with this.

Far green is like Stuttgart, Germany, which has decreed that all new buildings follow a green code and, in addition, carry a thatch of greenery on their roofs instead of sun-baked tar, metal or composites. Less green are such things as “rain garden” technology, which returns roof and other rainwater to the soil rather than to the city sewer.

Meanwhile the local example, 500 New Jersey, home of the National Association of Realtors, uses many features of green technology. These are as simple as shade awnings or as complicated as waterless urinals (requiring exception from D.C. plumbing codes). The building has light sensors to reduce electric lighting when sunlight is available, bike racks and showers for workers, storm-water runoff collection. Its electricity usage is about half of a “normal” building. Building materials are recycled as much as possible and local when possible. Site construction included removal of 24 feet of contaminated earth, the relics of a former gas station. Hybrid vehicles get preferred parking.

With all that, the building got only the second highest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating; other such buildings have innovations like solar hot water, ceiling fans and other devices and techniques to reduce energy waste and lower operating costs. Portland, Ore., for instance, seeking to reduce the “urban heat island” effect (which plagues Washington) has been charging fees for storm-water runoff from conventional buildings, but so-called “green roof” buildings, topped with sod and grasses, avoid the fees.

School crisis discovered

It took a poll and an upcoming election, but The Washington Post has declared D.C. schools are a mess. A telling Post headline last Wednesday read: “Middle Class Needed to Protect Gains, Professor Says.”

The same conditions have existed for decades, prompting one-quarter of D.C. parents to dump the system for charter schools and forcing uncounted thousands to flee D.C. for Maryland and Virginia. Yet year after year the Post has kept its reporting on the same track — following the actions of the school board and reporting hopefully on changes planned by board chairs from Linda Cropp to Peggy Cooper Cafritz.

The reason is not hard to seek. When I got hold of a Post directory several years ago, I found that fewer than 10 reporters lived east of Rock Creek Park. I have been unable to find how many reporters’ children attend D.C. Public Schools, but I am willing to bet it is a single digit.

A new generation of ambitious young people wants to know what’s wrong. It’s a question a great metropolitan paper ought to be able to answer.

Fine wines flow for Apple Tree

On one hand, the signs are still up along residential 12th Street N.E. above Lincoln Park: “No Apple Tree on 12th.”

On the other, the Boston-based charter-school institute that has vowed to help reform D.C.’s schools says it’s here to stay. And this weekend Apple Tree plans to fill a war chest as beneficiary of one of the most luxurious charity dinners ever held in Washington — at $30,000 a guest.

What appeared at first to be a merely local scuffle over the right of a charter school to open in a house it bought has escalated to the policy level. Because of neighbors’ opposition, the city has revised its rules regarding charter-school property, toughening them to the point that other charter schools wish that Apple Tree had not come to D.C. or that it would fold its tents and leave.

But Apple Tree is fighting back. Hard.

The school, which hopes to field a 52-student body if permit matters are ever settled, is appealing D.C. zoning rulings. Apple Tree has also enlisted a group of wine and food connoisseurs who have paid $30,000 apiece to share a dinner featuring the world’s rarest and best wines at the French Embassy residence with wine critics Robert Parker and Pierre-Antoine Rovani, plus French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, on Friday evening.

A cut-price follow-up dinner Saturday, at $5,000 per guest, is planned for Holloway House, a Georgetown mansion. Beneficiaries of both events: Apple Tree and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Meanwhile, foes of the school are hooting across back fences over the mixed messages. Apple Tree has advertised itself as a foundation dedicated to “early learning and literacy for at risk preschool children in Washington, D.C.,” though charter-school rules prohibit a means test and the proposed Apple Tree School could not turn down the application of any millionaire’s child who wished to attend.

One of the leaders of the anti-Apple Tree group, Margaret Holwell, said the group plans to appear uninvited at the two dinner events in order to pamphlet and display signs denouncing Apple Trees plans.

Opponents have hardened their stance, Holwell said. It was thought that opposition would evaporate when Apple Tree reduced the number of students to 54. “As far as we’re concerned,” Holwell said last week, “we don’t want a charter school there. Period.”

Apple Tree faces several hurdles to opening a school in its small building. First, it must seek and get a special exception to residential zoning regulations, and must comply with parking requirements and a new city regulation that requires 9,000 square feet for a school of this size. The Apple Tree property is about 4,200 square feet. Lawyers predict the procedures may take as long as nine months.

Meanwhile, at a hearing May 3, supporters of other charter schools complained that the Apple Tree fight has ended the era of rather loose rules regarding such schools and subjected them to renewed scrutiny.


• Industry predictors forecast a tough season for airline passengers, yet the latest figures show the number of passengers is down at both Reagan National and Dulles airports and slightly up at Baltimore-Washington International, according to the Washington Airports Authority. ...

• Cash poor but rich in beer history, Gary Heurich got a half-million-dollar gift from the D.C. Council in the 2007 city budget. He’s great-grandson to Christian Heurich, founder of D.C.’s best-known local brewery and builder of the Heurich Mansion at 13th Street and New Hampshire Avenue N.W., but he’d mortgaged the mansion to support his own Foggy Bottom brand, which flopped. The money will pay interest on Heurich’s debts and save him from selling the old place. ...

• RIP the latest attempt at getting commuters to pay a fair share of the city’s roads and services, as the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling May 15. Now the way is clear for outgoing Mayor Anthony Williams to move on some other measure — like a congestion tax on suburbanites who drive in the central business district. ...

• The Capitol Hill Community Foundation, which has raised $600,000 and plans to raise twice that sum to restore and redo public school libraries, got a few surprises from eight winners of a Capitol Hill library essay contest held May 23. Asked what they’d do to change their school, some students wrote: “Make the bookshelves shorter so we can reach the books.” ...

• Police, alarmed that six of the eight pedestrians killed this year on city streets were killed in Ward 8, are cracking down on the South Capitol Street area, where motorists regularly run red lights many seconds after they turn from green. ...

• Near Northeast dwellers have tried and tried to silence the Israelite Church of God and Jesus Christ on 8th and H streets N.E. with its amplified, impersonal sermonizing via loudspeaker, but police and city authorities have only temporized. Now 8th Street resident Dave Klavitter plans to force police to act by setting up his own amplifier at Wisconsin and N in Georgetown, where he’ll loudly read noise-abatement rulings and court noise decisions. We’ll see.