GAR training seminars Reply

The Green Area Ratio (GAR) is a new environmental zoning regulation in the District of Columbia that is effective on October 1, 2013.

The Office of Planning and the District Department of the Environment are offering free training seminars on the GAR. Each seminar will provide an overview of the GAR, the plan submittal process, the GAR Guidebook, and the role of the Certified Landscape Expert. Information about the GAR is also available at

All GAR training seminars will be conducted at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, located at 1100 4th Street SW, Washington, DC.

Three training sessions are scheduled as follows:
• October 3, 2013 (10:30 am–1:00 pm), Room E200
• October 7, 2013 (9:00 am–12:00 pm), Room E4302
• October 11, 2013 (9:00 am–12:00 pm), Room E4302

Please contact Matthew Espie at or 202-715-7644 to sign up for a GAR training date.

Vegetated walls – artistic, attractive, and sustainable Reply

The District’s proposed Green Area Ratio (GAR) allows vegetated or green walls to be counted as a landscape element toward a project’s required GAR score. Vegetated walls are essentially vertical versions of green roofs. In addition to helping to reduce the District’s heat island effect, vegetated walls can be beautiful works of art or used for urban agriculture. Below are a couple of examples of vegetated walls — the first is from Mexico City, Mexico and the second is from Paris, France.

Source: Will Shank

Source: Will Shank

paris greenwall

Vegetated walls are constructed using either panels or cables (the construction method used depends on the types of plants selected). Vegetated walls are either free standing or part of a building.

The GAR allows applicants to calculate points for vegetated walls by multiplying the ground coverage area (planting bed) of the vegetated wall by the multiplier (0.6). The multiplier represents a value for the vertical surface of the wall.

Do you have any other examples of attractive vegetated walls? We’d love to see them!

GAR – easier than you might think? Reply

At first glance, meeting the District’s proposed Green Area Ratio (GAR) requirement might seem like a daunting proposition. Fear not, satisfying the GAR requirements will not be as difficult as you think. The GAR is a way for the District to ensure, through the zoning code, that new projects and significant additions meet minimum environmental standards. The GAR requirements work in tandem with the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new stormwater management requirements (MS-4). Together, GAR and MS-4 require property owners to incorporate landscape elements and environmental site design components into their projects to reduce stormwater runoff, improve air quality, and mitigate the urban heat island effect. Do these new requirements (GAR and MS-4) mean that site design has to be approached in a new way? In some cases, absolutely, but the intent is to encourage designers to approach site design in a holistic way; improving the District’s environmental quality while simultaneously satisfying the GAR and MS-4 requirements.

First, let’s review some basic information about GAR applicability. GAR would not apply to one-family detached and semi-detached dwellings, although they are required to provide a certain percentage of pervious surface on the lot. If you live in an R-1, R-2, R-3, or R-4 zone, GAR would not apply.

Second, let’s try to address some concerns that have been expressed about GAR. We’ve heard people say that the GAR might conflict with other planning goals, such as creating lively and engaging streetscapes, and could instead result in sites with overly large setbacks. However, the GAR requirement could be met while still allowing for effective site design while including project elements consistent with the District’s planning goals, such as pedestrian plazas that include public seating, cafe seating and retail opportunities. Examples exist where landscape performance features have been incorporated into designs that accommodate both gathering spaces and green features.

Example of a vegetated wall in Tokyo

Example of a vegetated wall in Tokyo

Extensive green roofs have been installed under walking grates at the American Society of Landscape Architects’ downtown headquarters. University of the District of Columbia’s Van Ness campus has incorporated an intensive green roof and commencement gathering areas, as well as a harvest/reuse system, into the main pedestrian plaza over the parking structure. In addition, there are several other ways designers could meet the GAR requirement, including the use of permeable pavers, vegetated walls, or planters with trees or native plant species.


Sustainable DC Reply

OP’s proposed revisions to the zoning code include several elements designed to improve the city’s sustainability, including the Green Area Ratio (GAR) for commercial and multifamily properties, pervious surface requirements for the lower density residential zones, increased landscaping requirements for parking lots, and increased availability of bike parking and car sharing; however, the inclusion of green code provisions is just one of many efforts by the District to support its sustainability goals. Last week Mayor Vincent Gray released the Sustainable DC Plan to ensure that the District is the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the nation. The plan is the culmination of 20 months of work by the Sustainable DC initiative, launched in September 2011 and co-led by the DC Office of Planning and the District Department of the Environment.


What Are The Proposed Revisions to Industrial Zones? 1

The Office of Planning (OP) is proposing some changes to the Production, Distribution, and Repair (P) zones – what you may know as industrial zones.

Floor Area Ratio (FAR)

Industrially zoned land is some of the most inexpensive land in the District – that affordability often brings non-industrial uses, such as nightclubs, to PDR zoned properties. OP is proposing to limit the floor area that can be used for non-industrial uses. The current range for FAR is 3.0 to 6.0 in PDR zones, which does not limit square footage based on use. OP is proposing to limit the maximum allowable FAR for non-industrial uses to 1.0 to 4.0, depending on the PDR zone. The total FAR for a PDR zoned property would continue to range from 3.5 to 6.0, again depending on the zone, but with the square footage of non-industrial uses would be limited.

Green Area Ratio (GAR)

As part of the Zoning Regulations Review, OP is introducing the Green Area Ratio (GAR), which is a weighted score that serves as an environmental sustainability measure for a site. While the GAR requirement applies to industrially zoned land, OP is proposing some flexibility given the low-scale nature of many industrial buildings. Lots in PDR zones must obtain a GAR score of at least 0.3, with the exception of lots where the main building is one story (the required GAR score is reduced to 0.1) and lots where the main building is two stories (the required GAR score is reduces to 0.2).


Green Area Ratio Q&A Reply

ZoningDC sat down with OP Sustainability Planner Laine Cidlowski to discuss the District’s proposed ‘Green Area Ratio’ (GAR).

1. What is the District’s proposed GAR and how does it work?

The GAR is a way for the city to ensure environmental performance through the open spaces we are requiring through zoning. The GAR is an environmental site-sustainability metric. In other words, we figure out the environmental benefit of a piece of property by figuring out the landscape elements that contribute to air quality, water quality, and heat island effect. The landscape elements can be things like trees, rain gardens, or vegetated roofs, and each has a weighted number of points. We multiply these landscape elements by their multiplier and add them up. We divide that total by the size of the piece of property – that’s the GAR.

2. Why does OP believe the GAR is a good idea?

The GAR will help the District address many different environmental issues through a regulation that’s flexible and provides many options for property owners and developers.

3. How is the GAR different than LEED?

LEED is a sustainable system for buildings and choosing the site of a building or buildings. GAR is primarily for your site, but it can also include “landscape” elements which can be part of the exterior of your building, such as a green roof or solar panels.

Seattle has implemented its own GAR.

4. Who will be affected by the GAR? Will it apply to single-family homes?

GAR will not apply to single-family homes. GAR will apply for all buildings that need a Certificate of Occupancy. That is, multi-family residential buildings (over 2 units) and commercial properties. The majority of housing stock in the District (approximately 60%) is made up of structures with two units or less and GAR would not apply. Instead, those property owners would have simpler requirements relating to the amount of pervious surfaces on their property.