Add another first for the Gallery Bethesda apartment project in Woodmont Triangle.
The U.S. Green Building Council on Wednesday awarded the 18-story, 234-unit building on Rugby Avenue with a LEED Gold rating, the first new construction in downtown Bethesda to achieve the mark.
The LEED certification system awards points for various energy saving and sustainable attributes of buildings across many categories. According to developer Donohoe, the Gallery Bethesda earned its Gold rating thanks in part to onsite stormwater management, high efficiency lighting, green roofs, a complimentary electric car charging station for residents and use of more than 75 percent recycled materials during construction.
“We’ve designed Gallery to be the healthiest, most environmentally friendly residences in Bethesda,” Donohoe Development Senior Vice President Jad Donohoe said in a press release.
Construction finished on the building (the first of two Gallery Bethesda residential towers) early this year. Donohoe and apartment management firm Vantage Management celebrated the official grand opening in June.
It’s the first completely smoke-free apartment in downtown Bethesda and the first completed residential project in the new wave of development hitting Woodmont Triangle. It’s also the tallest residential building in downtown Bethesda.
Some photos via Donohoe Companies
The green nonprofit on Monday announced the hiring of Veronique Marier, most recently a deputy director of the D.C. government’s Energy Administration. Marier will take over for departing Executive Director Dave Feldman, whose official last day will be July 11.
“We’re delighted Véronique is joining Bethesda Green at a pivotal point in its development,” Bethesda Green Board Chair Anthony Millin said in a prepared statement. “She has the energy, drive and experience to lead the organization as we explore ways to expand our efforts in Bethesda through supporting exciting new sustainable projects such as commercial rooftop gardens and EcoDistrict development in the downtown business sector.”
The ecodistrict concept could be part of a new planning department master plan for the area, though its unknown to what extent.
Marier led the development of D.C.’s Comprehensive Energy Plan and helped finalize new energy benchmarking regulations for D.C. buildings. She also helped develop legislation passed last fall in D.C. that removes barriers to installing rooftop solar panels.
Feldman helped found Bethesda Green in 2008. The nonprofit, with the backing of Montgomery County, established a green business incubator above the Capital One Bank branch at Cordell and Woodmont Avenues.
Feldman is leaving the position to set up Bethesda Green-like organizations in other cities through his company, Livability Project. The press release said Feldman will remain involved with Bethesda Green.
Marier could not be reached for comment.
Photo via LinkedIn
Montgomery County on Wednesday put out a request for proposals for companies interested in installing solar panels in empty parking spots on the top of 12 public garages.
The county’s Department of Transportation is looking for vendors to put the solar panels on four garages in downtown Bethesda, seven in Silver Spring and one in Wheaton. The concept would have those vendors sell energy generated by the solar panels back to the county to power the garages, and perhaps other structures.
MCDOT says the RFEP (the “E” is for energy) is part of the county’s efforts to meet its climate and clean energy goals. Proposals are due by Sept. 5.
Three of the four garages included in downtown Bethesda are known as home to entire levels of empty parking spaces, especially on the top floors of the structures.
The six-floor Del Ray Avenue Parking Garage (4907 Del Ray Ave.) is so empty that the top floor is chained off. MCDOT estimates the top floor of the garage could fit enough solar panels to produce 757,355 killowatt hours annually. That would be enough to offset 66 percent of the energy used to power the garage each year.
Each garage presents its own set of challenges involving nearby buildings that would create shadows, elevation changes and HVAC units. The Del Ray Garage, for instance, has a large HVAC center at the center of the top floor that could cramp where solar panels would go.
A press release announcing the RFEP claimed it makes Montgomery County one of the “first major east coast urban jurisdictions to have solar generation on top of parking facilities.” The concept of solar panel canopies over parking spaces has been done, mostly in California.
MCDOT hopes to select its vendor early next year with a contract start date some time in the second quarter of 2015.
Other Bethesda garages included in the RFEP are the Woodmont Avenue Parking Garage (7730 Woodmont Ave.), the adjacent Old Georgetown Road Parking Garage (7661 Old Georgetown Rd.) and the popular St. Elmo Avenue Parking Garage (4935 St. Elmo Ave.).
The St. Elmo Avenue Garage sees more demand than the other three. It’s not uncommon for the garage to be completely full on weekend evenings. The RFEP didn’t include estimates for how much kWH could be produced from solar panels on top of that garage.
MCDOT said it intends to purchase all electricity generated by the systems on a per kilowatt basis. It also said excess power could be used to reduce electric bills for the underground garages owned by the county.
Photos via MCDOT
County planners might recommend making part of downtown Bethesda an ecodistrict.
What does that mean?
Find out Wednesday, June 18 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., when the Planning Department hosts a community workshop on the ecodistrict concept as part of its Bethesda Downtown Plan outreach.
Ecodistricts are an emerging planning concept that involve reusing water, capturing waste and prioritizing sustainable building design. The idea is that planning more sustainable and more environmentally friendly development at a neighborhood scale — rather than project-by-project — will net better results.
What precisely that will bring to downtown Bethesda isn’t yet clear. You can learn more about the broad strokes with this presentation from county planners.
Ecodistricts take on a variety of characteristics.
In January 2013, the National Capital Planning Commission approved a plan that provides the framework for an ecodistrict in the 15-block area of mostly federal office buildings located just south of the National Mall.
Over a 20-year period, the NCPC hopes the plan will result in most of the area’s energy, water, and waste being captured, managed, and then reused. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 51 percent, even with the potential addition of four million square feet of development.
Potable water consumption would be reduced by 70 percent, all stormwater will be managed and 80 percent of waste could be diverted from landfills.
Portland, Ore. has five designated ecodistricts that were initially cared for and maintained by a city-created nonprofit, before control was ceded back to the city.
The workshop is set for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center (4805 Edgemoor Lane).
This year, after building Bethesda Green into a business incubator of 15 companies, partnering with local restaurant owners to reduce energy usage and leading a number of other “green” projects around town, Feldman will step down to start creating Bethesda Green-like groups across the country.
“Green and sustainability in this country were quite young,” said Feldman, who started Bethesda Green with a $25,000 county grant championed by Councilmember George Leventhal.
“It’s much more of a common discussion right now. You see it in the county’s schools, the county offers a green certification and you hear it in a lot of the businesses that are now making their operations green,” Feldman said. “The movement has definitely come a long way. We had to build it so people could see what it looked like.”
What Bethesda Green looks like, eight years later, is part economic development engine, part environmental nonprofit, part facilitator of partnerships between businesses and county government.
Leventhal and Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman helped Feldman found the nonprofit and remain influential in its operation and activities.
Feldman, who comes from an economic development background, said one of the main catalysts for the organization was then-Chevy Chase Bank, which graciously gave Bethesda Green the office space it uses today above its now Capital One Bank branch at Cordell and Woodmont Avenues.
That physical space allowed Feldman and crew to put the theory of Bethesda Green to action through the Bethesda Green Business Incubator. It’s carried as many as 17 green companies, including one that analyzes hidden energy costs of home appliances, a gasoline-saving landscaper, homemade sauce-selling duo and bathtub salt and soap maker.
“Everybody has contributed in different ways to the incubator,” Feldman said. “I visualized it. I had no idea how it would unfold. I had no idea Chevy Chase Bank would give us $4,000 square feet in downtown Bethesda. You can’t expect these types of things.”
The other purpose of Bethesda Green is to serve as a facilitator, or a platform for collaboration between business and government. The offices include an education center. Bethesda Green has hosted pitch sessions to help start-ups refine their message for seed investors. It’s also brought the concept of sustainability to local business owners.
Take for instance, GRAB (the Green Restaurant Association of Bethesda). The owner of Yamas on Rugby Avenue and Tony Marciante of Chef Tony’s fame started an informal group of restaurant owners to talk tax breaks, incentives, biofuel, waste oil and smart purchasing methods for restaurants to be more green and cut costs.
Feldman said Bethesda Green will likely put up a green roof on a prominent Bethesda building soon, though the details haven’t been finalized. It’s behind the recycling bins seen throughout downtown Bethesda, a seemingly small but concrete effort Feldman said resonates with residents and business owners.
Feldman will stick around until the organization finds its new executive director and he’ll remain as an advisor. His main focus will shift to his consulting firm, The Livability Project, which will seek to bring Bethesda Green-like nonprofits to other communities around the country. Look for one in Prince George’s County soon.
It’s also possible Bethesda Green could be the hub of a future region-wide “sustainability cluster,” something Feldman hopes to pursue on a national level.
Today, Bethesda Green has six part-time employees and revenue of $325,000. Feldman said a green, sustainability nonprofit can work anywhere. But it helped that his first major effort at the concept came here.
“Part of it is because Bethesda has an engaged group of residents. There was a need and an opportunity. You also have the right leadership here,” Feldman said. “It didn’t happen in other towns. It happened in Bethesda.”
Among the seven energy bills County Executive Isiah Leggett signed on Thursday was an energy benchmarking bill that made Montgomery County the first county in the country to require private commercial property owners to make public their energy efficiency measurements.
The bill, sponsored by Councilmember Roger Berliner in a package of nine laws and zoning changes passed by the Council last week, was “a watershed moment for Montgomery County,” Leggett said.
The benchmarking requirement might have been even stronger. The bill originally proposed by Berliner included requirements for property owners to do an audit on their buildings and to make the energy efficiency improvements those audits called for.
Commercial real estate developers and property owners almost immediately pushed back, saying the requirements would be too costly.
“I knew we were pushing the envelope. The building owners and the development community said, ‘Oh my goodness Roger.’ I felt that I had gone not one bridge too far, but two bridges too far,” Berliner said. “So I took some of those provisions out and started with the county first.”
Similar to benchmarking bills in major cities, the law signed Thursday will require county-owned buildings to benchmark first and by June 1, 2015. There will then be a six-month work group to analyze how the county benchmarking process went and suggest any changes for commercial property owners.
Buildings greater than 250,000 square feet will have to comply with the law by December 2016. Buildings greater than 50,000 square feet will have to comply by 2017.
Berliner said his hope is that making energy usage public information, coupled with the a county loan fund to help commercial property owners make energy improvements, will bring property owners together with companies that finance energy efficient retrofits.
Other bills signed by Leggett on Thursday included one that requires the county to use a company that installs LED lights in its next street light contract. One bill requires the county get 50 percent of its electric power from renewable energy resources by next year and 100 percent by 2016. Another bill speeds up the permitting process for installing electric vehicle charging stations.
Incentives for sustainable design features, district heating and cooling systems and a fund for public amenities could be things coming to downtown Bethesda through the Planning Department’s ongoing master plan for the area.
Planners will likely pitch ecodistricts and a general public amenities fund as two of their preliminary recommendations as part of the Bethesda Downtown Plan, according to county planner Marc DeOcampo.
DeOcampo talked about the recommendations at a Citizens Advisory Board meeting on Monday, ahead of the Planning Department’s next planned workshop on Saturday, May 17.
Ecodistricts are an emerging planning concept that involve reusing water, capturing waste and prioritizing sustainable building design. The idea is that planning more sustainable and more environmentally friendly development at a neighborhood scale — rather than project-by-project — will get better results.
DeOcampo said the Planning Department is pursuing a consultant who worked on the SW D.C. Ecodistrict Plan. In January 2013, the National Capital Planning Commission approved a plan that provides the framework for an ecodistrict in the 15-block area of mostly federal office buildings located just south of the National Mall.
Over a 20-year period, the NCPC hopes the plan will result in most of the area’s energy, water, and waste being captured, managed, and then reused. Greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 51 percent, even with the potential addition of 4 million square feet of development.
Potable water consumption would be reduced by 70 percent, all stormwater will be managed and 80 percent of waste could be diverted from landfills.
Portland, Ore. has five designated ecodistricts that were initially cared for and maintained by a city-created nonprofit, before control was ceded back to the city.
Montgomery County planners have identified social sustainability, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability as the three themes guiding the Bethesda Downtown Plan since almost the beginning of their work on it.
The amenity fund idea has been pitched by a number of downtown residents, including the Board of Directors of the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District.
It’s not yet clear precisely how the Planning Department’s recommendation would look.
But community activists would like to see money from the private developers of downtown Bethesda help finance projects like a semi-permanent sculpture garden along Norfolk Avenue, a community black box theater or a civic green space that’s accessible and visible.
Montgomery County now provides a public amenity option to developers that want increased density, a common occurrence in downtown Bethesda. In an attempt to create a more vibrant urban place, developers can provide open spaces and public art.
But in Bethesda and elsewhere, those amenities are usually restricted to the developer’s property.
Flickr photo via La Citta Vita
The county’s Stoney Creek Stormwater Management Pond, a 1.3-acre pond that captures runoff from 204 acres of the Bethesda Central Business District and NIH campus, will receive the 2014 Engineering Excellence Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies.
The project, from the Department of Environmental Projection, actually sits on a six-acre site just south of the NIH campus and just west of Woodmont Avenue.
The county completed the $2.5 million project last May. It includes two underground chambers for capturing trash and pollutants washing downstream from Bethesda, subsurface aerators to enhance pond water circulation and native trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, grasses and wetland vegetation.
Environmental planners say the project, which began in October 2010, will treat stormwater from parking lots and developed areas that would have otherwise ended up in a tributary of Rock Creek.
The award ceremony is set for April 29.
A group opposed to Purple Line construction on the Capital Crescent Trail says a Purple Line supporter is behind a $500 county-levied fine against its president, who built a new backyard fence last summer in the county-owned trail right-of-way.
Last week, we told you the story of Ajay Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and a Chevy Chase resident whose home backs up to the Georgetown Branch extension of the trail.
Bhatt, an ardent critic of the Purple Line as currently proposed, built a new fence around his property, except Montgomery County found the fence to have been built illegally, about 18 feet on to its property. The county’s right-of-way includes the trail and is set to be handed over to the state for construction of the 16-mile light rail system.
Wayne Phyillaier, a Silver Spring resident who supports the Purple Line because it would include a rebuilt trail, documented Bhatt’s fine and upcoming appeal in a blog post.
On Friday, Bhatt provided this response from the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail group, which indicates Phyillaier prompted a county investigation into the fence:
We are responding to a recent personal attack on our President, Ajay Bhatt. As most of you know, Ajay resides along the trail in a home owned by his family since 1977, and his family has enjoyed the trail immensely. Many homes along the trail include fences, sheds, and similar structures that overlap the county right-of-way — a holdover from when the railroad owned the land. A fence has been at Ajay’s house since the late 70s, and it has been replaced at least three times since then. In an effort to pull attention away from the real issues with the Purple Line, Wayne Phyillaier, an active Purple Line booster and blogger, complained about the fence and the county subsequently responded with a citation. Mr. Phyillaier is not a neighbor and has no legitimate interest in this particular fence. Ajay properly sought and received a permit for the fence and is exercising his legal rights to resolve this issue in the most common sense way. FCCT has raised many significant concerns regarding the proposed Purple Line, many of which are detailed in our response to the Final Environmental Impact Statement. These are the real issues that affect everyone, and we welcome respectful discourse on these topics from all interested parties.
Last week, Phyillaier told us he wouldn’t have written about the fence, had it not been for its new construction by a resident who clearly knew the history of the trail right-of-way.
“It’s the most recent construction that I know of,” Phyillaier said. “I don’t think it’s necessary for the county to start going through and ripping through all these old fences and old tool sheds. There’s really no public good in ripping them out or confronting the property owner. I think it’s important that the county confront Ajay or anyone else who is doing new construction.”
Behind homes in Chevy Chase that back up to the trail, there are many fences and sheds that are technically in the county-owned Georgetown Branch right-of-way.
Many were built before Montgomery County purchased the right-of-way for a potential transit line in 1988, some as far back as the 1950s. That has caused confusion and frustration among some homeowners whose backyards back up to the trail.
The trail used to be a CSX rail line.
It’s unclear what permit Bhatt received for the fence construction. There’s no record of a permit issued in 2013 for his property in the county’s Public Right of Way records. There is no record of a Residential Construction Permit issued for his property in either 2012 or 2013.
Photos via Wayne Phyillaier
Some commercial real estate developers aren’t so keen on a package of environmental bills in front of the County Council, specifically one measure that would require building owners to measure their energy efficiency and ensure their energy efficiency equipment is working properly.
At a Council committee public hearing Tuesday on a package of 13 environmental bills, a few commercial real estate representatives testified against the idea of the benchmarking measure and a separate bill that would require new commercial buildings to meet Silver LEED certification.
Councilmember Roger Berliner, who introduced the bills in January, defended his proposals by saying they are modeled on laws in other jurisdictions. Berliner has support from the majority of the Council on all 13 bills. The Berliner-chaired Energy Committee will hold a worksession on the measures on Feb. 26.
“Montgomery County is in a double-dip recession the likes of which it’s never seen. The federal government’s impact in Montgomery County will be declining in the next 20 years, which means we’re going to need to rely heavily on private sector growth for our economy,” said Charles Nulsen, president of the Bethesda-based Washington Property Company. “We have an A- grade in environmental stewardship. We have an F in economic stewardship. We should concentrate on pulling that economic grade up to a C.”
The nonprofit and business incubator will host a slew of green-minded organizations looking for interns interested in the environmental sector.
The event runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Bethesda Green headquarters (4825 Cordell Ave., second floor above Capital One Bank).
Groups looking for interns will include the Student Conservation Association, EarthShare, Calleva Outdoor Adventure Camp & Farm and Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection.
For more information, visit Bethesda Green’s website.
Image via Bethesda Green
So Marciante is getting together with Bethesda Green to create what he said is a low-pressure, low-stress group of Bethesda restaurateurs dedicated to making their restaurants more energy efficient and less wasteful.
Marciante is looking for founding members for GRAB (the Green Restaurant Association of Bethesda) for an inaugural meeting next month and a number of events to get the group off the ground.
In Bethesda, known for its restaurants perhaps as much as anything else, Marciante said the group could help make significant green improvements with some small changes.
“The reality is, the greater benefit is from small restaurants doing a little bit, because there are more small restaurants that probably aren’t doing anything,” Marciante said. “One of the things is this isn’t a maniacal, all-or-nothing type deal. It’s really just trying to collect whoever is willing to listen and show them the benefits of going green, of making some strides in that direction.”
Marciante said he recently learned of a financing program with Pepco that will allow him to swap out old equipment for five pieces of new, energy efficient equipment.
Bethesda Green lists a number of ways – tax breaks, incentives, biofuel, waste oil and smart purchasing included — restaurants can be more green and cut costs.
“Anything is good. My two cents in the whole thing is this stuff is important, but we’re hoping to just make some strides in that direction,” Marciante said.
Six county councilmembers on Monday voiced their support for a package of energy and sustainability laws they say will put Montgomery County back in the lead when it comes to environmental policy.
Bethesda Councilmember Roger Berliner said he had the support of the majority of the Council on all 13 bills in a legislative package to be introduced Tuesday. The bills include measures to make installing solar panels easier, a requirement that new commercial buildings meet LEED Silver standards and a requirement that the county government up its use of renewable energy.
“It’s pretty simple really. If we want to help our planet, improve the quality of life in Montgomery County and foster a green economy here, we need to use less energy and more clean energy,” Berliner said.
With Berliner were representatives of national and local environmental organizations, County Executive Isiah Leggett’s director of Environmental Protection and five Council colleagues. A few talked about how fortunate they felt to represent an area where solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations and renewable energy aren’t a highly divisive topic.
“I want to say how good it is to be in Montgomery County, where these issues are not debatable, where being out front, doing the right thing on the environment is not something that’s subject to divisive debate,” Councilmember Marc Elrich said. “The climate change issue is real and somebody has to be serious about it. I really firm believe that this has more and more become about local solutions, that people are going to look at Washington and say, ‘You do not have the right to condemn us to a future that we don’t want to be a part of.’”
One bill would require that at least half of the county’s electric power usage be supplied by renewable energy sources by fiscal year 2015 and that all of it come from renewable energy sources by fiscal year 2020. The existing law, promoted by a few current members of Council, requires 30 percent come from renewable sources.
“We were among the first counties in the nation to adopt a renewable energy portfolio of our own,” Councilmember George Leventhal said. “At the time, in the last decade, we were actually the largest purchaser of clean energy in the eastern United States. That’s not true anymore. The recession intervened and Montgomery County is no longer in the forefront.”
“What people need to understand is Montgomery County has been deep into this game,” Councilmember Nancy Floreen said.
Other bills would give a preference to certified green businesses in contract bids with the county, create an Office of Sustainability in the Department of Environmental Protection and require the county to go with a company that provides LED lights in its next street light contract.
Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, said Arlington County saw energy savings of 75 percent after installing LED street lights.
Berliner will take part in a discussion with U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and other energy leaders on Tuesday. Berliner said his goal is to garner support for local initiatives in the absence of national energy legislation.
Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase) will introduce a package of 13 bills next week to make installing solar panels easier, require new commercial buildings meet LEED Silver standards and get the county government to up its use of renewable energy.
Berliner, an energy lawyer who chairs the Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, said at a town hall meeting on Wednesday that the package is meant to reflect “a community that embraces sustainability as a core value.”
In a memo to Council colleagues (see PDF below) he said the recent minimum wage increase by the group inspired him to step up efforts in the environmental protection realm.
“We need to use less energy and cleaner energy. Period. This package of bills is taken in many instances from what other leading jurisdictions are doing — from Chicago to Seattle to California and New York states,” Berliner wrote. “They are a mix of leading by example, rewarding green businesses, supporting market forces, adopting more exacting standards, and holding our county government accountability.”
The bills cover solar panel use, new regulations for county government and requirements for private property owners.
One zoning change would allow solar panels to extend two feet into the side or rear setback. Another zoning change would require all new buildings to install one electric vehicle charging station for every 50 parking spaces.
At the meeting on Wednesday in the Town of Chevy Chase, Berliner indicated he had support for the package of bills from County Executive Isiah Leggett. Some of the bills would impose new laws on the county government.
In 2008, the Council passed a similar package of laws with the formal goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Montgomery County by 80 percent by 2050.
Berliner said it’s now time to hold county government more accountable in that mission.
One bill would require the county’s Department of Permitting Services to establish an Office of Sustainability to monitor and improve its policies for sustainability. Two of the bills would require DEP to come up with a faster and cheaper way to permit solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations.
Another would require the county’s Department of Transportation to contract with an LED lighting company for all county streetlights after its current contract expires.
The package would also require all new commercial buildings to meet existing county standards for Silver LEED certification.
The rest of the package is described in a fact sheet, provided below.
Savenia Labs, a company in the Bethesda Green business incubator, last week launched its Savenia Home Ratings. The company is working with local realtor Jane Fairweather and homebuilder Sandy Spring Builders to calculate the value of energy-saving appliances, lighting and other improvements before someone buys or sells a home.
The information is based on water and electricity rates in the home’s zip code. Home sellers or builders can enter the product model numbers into Savenia’s database to see how they match up. Savenia then will provide a gold, silver or bronze home rating and details on environmental impacts and costs of proposed upgrades.
The company says upgrading lighting, appliances and a water heater up front can save tens of thousands of utility costs over 15 years.
Savenia previously partnered up with local hardware store Strosniders to attach a carbon footprint rating to appliances by incorporating how different areas produce the electricity being used to power different products.
For example: The company can take a coffee maker, gather market data such as how long people typically leave a pot of coffee on a hot plate, test the electricity output and determine that $25 product may cost a consumer $100 to use in the long run. Savenia then provides that information to retailers in the form of an energy rating label displayed on the store’s shelves.
It’s something Savenia founder John Jabara says consumers are paying closer attention to, which could attract them to sellers or home builders who are willing to make energy-saving adjustments.
“Now, buyers can make more informed buying decisions and sellers can finally get credit for investments in efficient products,” Jabara said in a press release.