How one neighborhood is fighting global warming

A high-density condominium rising in Washington’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood is a prime example of how new development could help curb global warming.

By creating more housing that isn’t gobbling up air, developers like New River Partners hope to ease strain on a crucial urban artery like Massachusetts Avenue, a downtown thoroughfare that snarls traffic and pollution.

Plans to “live, work and play” on the 33-story building have been approved by the city of Washington’s Regulatory Review Board. Its first residents are scheduled to move in December.

The luxury tower includes shared terraces on the lower floors where residents can take advantage of natural light. A roof garden will connect tenants to the neighborhood. Each floor will also feature an open-air rooftop deck.

Water treatment and recycling systems for residents is another part of the project designed to reduce carbon emissions. And the building includes four levels of green space.

“These are everyday things that you can do as a homeowner,” said John Fleck, executive vice president for New River Partners.

But more traditional work force housing — such as for accounting firms, insurance companies and other large employers that are moving to the area — must follow a similar path, he said.

In an effort to help them, New River Partners is building more housing that isn’t just for “retail space,” such as in its 33-story Mount Pleasant building.

In the New River Building II, a 14-story building on U Street that is also slated to open this month, tenants will have a laundry room, kitchenette and living space divided by soaring balconies. The apartments feature radiant heating in common areas and separate rooms for renters.

“We started to see these projects start to go up, and we said we don’t need this,” Fleck said. “We do have the population density that supports more to be done.”

Developers have historically had a difficult time selling units to people in general and many renters especially because of the poor design of existing buildings, a lack of parking and their high cost.

But younger people in particular are buying land and building their own homes with good financing, said Gary Horvath, a real estate and business professor at George Washington University’s business school.

In the McPherson Square area of Washington, commercial and residential development is up 86 percent since 2009, according to a city report released in October. The number of residential units on the upswing has been even more impressive, more than doubling to 6,425 units. That represents a 30 percent increase in the area’s housing market.

“The only way to create housing is to create housing that has all the conveniences of modern living,” said Hurvath, who is author of a new book called “The New Real Estate, Creating New Wealth.”

In the past few years, government policies, like the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, are “re-inventing” the electric grid to make it more flexible. Developers are scrambling to build more rooftop gardens, he said.

“This is a new paradigm that we’re just coming out of, that everyone is starting to buy in to,” he said.

Fleck hopes that the changing competitive economy brings about similar changes. As more people move in, they will look for housing they can afford, and create the demand that real estate developers so desperately need.

“It’s at the crossroads of a great city and a great economy,” Fleck said. “There’s a lot of demand.”

But the trend to live, work and play needs to be sustainable, and, similar to the New River Building II, it means purchasing more homes that can be used as both residences and jobs.

Local developers are coming around to how well it works in neighborhoods like Mount Pleasant, where homeowners aren’t specifically seeking the lifestyle, said Eric Street, vice president of development for Creative Living Consultants.

“People like to own their homes and feel like they are accomplishing something,” he said. “Living, working and playing is the new normal.”

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