- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2007

For many urbanites, a roof deck has long been a sought-after amenity in a condo building or private home — especially when the lawn is minuscule or nonexistent.

As amenities go, a roof deck “ranked very high” for Laura Katzman, a professor at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va., when she was in the market for a condominium.

Ms. Katzman ultimately purchased a unit in a building called the General Scott, at Scott Circle, built in 1941.

“Because the [units] in the building tend to be small, the roof deck feels like an extra space you have access to,” says Ms. Katzman, who purchased the one-bedroom home in 2004.

“I go up a couple of times in season,” she says, noting that the view of the Washington Monument from the roof is stellar. “It’s a great way to be social, especially on July 4 for the fireworks. You see all these people you’ve never seen before, or people you might have wanted to talk to in the elevator but didn’t have a chance.”

From Capitol Hill to Southwest, from Kalorama to Columbia Heights, the prospect of a high perch from which to enjoy sweeping views of the city attracts many would-be owners and renters.

J.G. Huckenpahler has lived with his wife, Victoria, at the Westmoreland Cooperative in Sheridan-Kalorama for 30 years. Like Ms. Katzman at the General Scott, Mr. Huckenpahler says the Independence Day view from the top of the Westmoreland is spectacular.

In a city filled with elegant multiunit buildings, roof decks are “a selling point,” says Mr. Huckenpahler, who adds that a portion of monthly co-op fees levied on ownersis earmarked for maintenance of the roof deck.

Volunteers on the co-op’s garden committee are responsible for bringing in plants during the winter and carting them back out again come spring, Mr. Huckenpahler says.

City dwellers are not the only people enamored of a quiet retreat in the sky.

Out in Reston, Jeff Seymour, who does graphic design for a nearby church, lives in a condominium building with an accessible roof.

“I have no business living in a place so nice,” Mr. Seymour says with a laugh, citing the roof deck, exercise room, sauna and in-building movie room among the perks of the rental he found on Craig’s List.

“Last summer, I was going up there three times a week,” he says. “There’s a gas grill up there anyone can use, and I would just go and cook my supper up there. Normally I was there by myself, but a couple of times I met people over the grill.”

Mr. Seymour says he is surprised how few people use the roof in-season, given the size of the building.

“Some people have balconies, so maybe they use those rather than go up to the roof,” he says, “but I also think that everybody has their own lives and own friends, and their neighbors are not really a part of that.”

Private roof decks ratchet up the luxury factor even, er, higher.

Not to mention that when your roof deck is just off your top-floor kitchen and dining area, as it is in Martin Toews and Stephen Gifford’s home, it becomes sort of an outdoor living room.

“You could easily have 20 people out there standing, or 10 seated,” says Mr. Toews, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker, who moved into his 1890 building on S Street Northwest in 1994.

At that time, there were roof decks for each of the building’s top two units. But Mr. Toews and Mr. Gifford, who planned to occupy the upper floors of the building and rent out the remaining two units, decided to remove the topmost deck and completely refurbish the deck that remained.

“We spent about $100,000 suspending it and doing it right,” says Mr. Toews, who hired an engineer and a professional landscaper, among other experts, to consult on the project.

He says the finished roof deck, about 600 square feet, is awash in greenery in the warmer months and includes a fountain and lighting for evening gatherings.

“There is a certain amount of maintenance involved,” Mr. Toews says. With container gardening, “the watering has to be pretty constant. It’s not like watering a garden” in the ground. Winds and air currents must also be considered, and Washington’s weather is also a wild card.

Speaking of weather, so-called “green roofs” are covered or partially covered with plants to blunt the effects of extreme heat and cold and are said to increase the energy efficiency of a building. A number of Washington-area buildings, including the General Scott, are taking a close look at the process of “greening” the rooftop.

“Green roofs have been around for centuries,” said John Fossum, another owner at the General Scott and an analyst with the federal government. “It’s [akin to] putting sunscreen or a hat on a building; it protects the underlying components from UV rays.”

Mr. Fossum, who chairs the roof committee at the General Scott, noted that a green roof can last for decades longer than a traditional roof. However, it’s too early to tell what the cost will be to General Scott residents. Many residents “think the idea is exciting,” he says, and a number of them have noted a green roof’s possible positive effect on resale values.

Green or not, a place high above the city streets to grab a bit of sunshine or solitude has been just the ticket for Washingtonians for longer than you might think.

Mr. Huckenpahler says that among the mementos on display during the Westmoreland’s centennial celebration in 2005 was an advertising flier from 1906. It touted the building’s roof deck.

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