Red is out and beige is in, at least for a new West End office building.

So says the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment, which this week unanimously ruled that the city did not violate zoning rules when it allowed a Washington developer to keep the building at 1250 24th St. NW beige instead of the reddish tone some thought the city had ordered.

What's more, the board said clear windows will be just as good as the green-tinted windows some wanted.

The city zoning board said the Kaempfer Co. does not have to restore the West End office building to its natural red-brick color or replace the untinted windows, as those fighting the development firm had sought. Critics had charged that Kaempfer violated a 1985 District zoning order stating that the new office building should match the color of the remaining facade of a building that previously stood on the site.

"I think reasonable people can disagree in regard to color," zoning board member Paula Jewell said before she voted against the change.

However, most participants would agree that reason will not be one of the points for which this case will be remembered.

As District zoning cases go, deciding the proper color for an office building should not have been complicated. But nearly 10 hours of unusually colorful testimony on the subject in a District Building hearing room gave this zoning case a bizarre twist.

Consider, for example, the former CIA lab chief who conducted an extensive analysis of a paint chip from the building only to find that, in fact, the beige building is beige. Or the glass expert who found that the building's clear glass is not green but actually clear.

Color blindness even became an issue. "It was unfortunate that all the players {from the two opposing sides} were male," zoning board Chairwoman Carrie Thornhill said immediately before she voted against the appeal to change the building's color. Men are more prone to color blindness than women.

The two expert witnesses in the case were paid by Philip and William Brown, cousins whose grandparents constructed the old B&W Garage at the 24th Street site in 1925. For the Browns, honoring their family's past is as important a reason for taking on the development firm as forcing the District to comply with its own zoning laws.

The B&W Garage -- which housed one of the city's first big cab companies, the B&W Taxicab Co. -- was razed two years ago to make way for the new Kaempfer office building.

The facade of the old structure was saved, however, at the insistence of some neighborhood activists and the Browns, who are still the majority landholders of valuable site. Kaempfer has leased the land under a 99-year agreement with the Browns.

In 1985, the D.C. Zoning Commission approved plans by Kaempfer to construct a 209,000-square-foot office building on the site. As a way to bypass the neighborhood's zoning, which calls for a mix of office and housing for new projects, Kaempfer offered a series of amenities, including a promise to maintain the facade of the old B&W Garage. The firm's proposal called for a building 50 percent larger than the area's zoning normally would have permitted.

The zoning commission agreed to the Kaempfer plan, but said the color of the building's facade and windows must match an architect's rendering of the complex. That rendering showed a reddish facade and green-tinted windows.

During construction of the building in 1986, Kaempfer officials asked the D.C. government to allow them to change the facade color from the approved red-brick shade to off-white or beige. But before a hearing could be held on the matter, Kaempfer painted the building beige, a move that angered the Browns and some neighborhood activists who had lent their support to the original building plan. After finishing the painting, the firm then dropped its color change request with the city three days before a scheduled hearing on the issue.

The Browns appealed the move to Joseph Bottner, then the city's acting zoning administrator. Bottner informed Kaempfer officials that the beige color "does not match" the color approved by the zoning board.

But three months later, in a letter to the Browns' attorney, Bottner changed his mind, claiming that the building's beige color "does match" the zoning order. In a hearing last month, Bottner, now the city's zoning administrator, said Kaempfer repainted the facade during the time between the two conflicting letters, making the facade's color in compliance with the commission order. Both paint jobs, however, resulted in a beige or off-white facade, not red.

This week, BZA Chairwoman Thornhill said the controversy was not about what should be the proper color of the building's facade and windows, or whether the Browns' paint and glass experts were correct in their analysis. Instead, she said the board tried to consider whether Bottner and his predecessor, James Fahey, were correct in interpreting the D.C. Zoning Commission order for the building's facade.

Thornhill said Bottner's ruling "was reasonable" because the zoning commission, which approved the original plan, did not specify in writing the required facade color or window treatments for the building. Instead, she said, the zoning commission mandated that the facade should be similar to an architect's rendering, a sketch that has been the center of the color debate.

"Everybody that reviewed {the rendering} came up with a different interpretation of what was the color," she said.

Moreover, Thornhill said she has "strong feelings that the D.C. government has been used {by the Browns and Kaempfer} to settle a private dispute."

But Philip Brown said, "That has nothing to do with it. ... This is not over." Brownsaid he will appeal the BZA's decision back to the D.C. Zoning Commission or to the D.C. Court of Appeals.