Multifamily and commercial buildings in Washington, D.C., may soon be going green. A proposal from the D.C. Office of Planning issues new regulations for multifamily and commercial buildings city-wide, varying by zone. Each zone would need to dedicate a certain proportion of space to landscaping or permeable surfaces in an attempt to promote sustainability. The plan is modeled after European cities including Berlin and Malmö, Sweden.  Seattle has its own “Green Factor” program already in place. Dan Emerine, development review specialist for the Office of Planning, says extensive research was done to ensure Seattle’s program would be the right fit for the District. Emerine says the plan is part of a larger overhaul of making zoning laws in D.C. more environmentally friendly, and he hopes the regulations will be in place by the end of this year.

The D.C. zoning commission is defining a green area ratio as the “weighted value of landscape elements to land area.” The ratio sets environmental requirements for landscape elements and site design that contribute to the reduction of stormwater runoff, the improvement of air quality, and the mitigation of the urban heat island effect.

That means all new multifamily construction and renovations exceeding 100 percent of assessed value would be required to dedicate a certain amount of space to landscaping under the new proposal. But Emerine says there should be only a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in costs to developers as a result. “Research indicated that construction costs vary significantly on projects like landscaping, tree planting, protection of existing trees, green roof installation, and energy-solar panels,” he says. “The costs vary, but these are things that property owners would be doing anyway.”

But some developers, including Ron Terwilliger, former CEO ofTrammell Crow Residential, say that a 1 percent to 2 percent increase is significant. “What we have to be careful of in this country is that you can never zero-base budget anything in these codes because every change seems to add incremental costs,” he says. “Plus, the uncertainty in time it takes to get entitlements just adds cost burdens to developers of housing, specifically multifamily, and that is going to be passed on to the renters.”

Uwe Brandes, senior vice president for the Washington, D.C.–based Urban Land Institute, says the proposal could be positive for multifamily developers. “As regulatory frameworks get redefined over time through many jurisdictions, there will continue to be more preference [given] to development with central sites in metropolitan regions,” Brandes says. “Because of this, it’s going to get harder to develop single-use homes, which is good news for [multifamily] developers.”

Brandes thinks the zoning proposal is going to be a continuing trend that will soon reach other metropolitan areas dealing with stormwater runoff. “These various environmental issues are becoming more and more serious with respect to development issues, and this is an example of jurisdictions trying to move forward with the more serious problem of urban stormwater,” he says. “[While] before they were separate, now we see environmental issues working their way into zoning codes.“

The full proposal can be downloaded from the D.C. Register at