How Important Is It That Darrell Issa Is Talking Sense on Height Limits?
Tim Craig reports this morning that Republican House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is chill with the District's desire to add a few more floors to tall buildings here and there:
“The city is just as concerned, and city leaders and community folks are just as concerned, about not raising the height limits in a way that would adversely affect vista or historic areas,” Issa says. “The question is, ‘Should a federal prohibition be loosened to allow them to make those decisions in concert with historical groups?’ And my general feeling is, ‘Yes.’ ”
And then, later:
“We have an architectural interest in the nation’s capital, but it’s a pretty small area that we are really interested in,” said Issa, referring to Congress. “When you get to the edges of the city, you have to ask yourself: What harm would it be if those buildings were taller?”
Glory be! As voting rights backers have sought to emphasize with their "Don't Tread on D.C." slogans, District autonomy comports with the tea party line that localities should make decisions for themselves, rather than having the federal government do it for them. I'd actually argue that land transfers and control over land use are the most important intermediate step, since real estate arguably is more relevant to the city's future (and realistic considering political realities) than representation. So it's great to see Issa at least being ideologically consistent.
But will it matter? Busting the century-old on building heights will require a nod from the entire House and Senate, after all, not just a congressman's blessing. I think it will. Having one powerful guy be the first to offer his support—despite the fact that he's not politically aligned with most people in the District—could very well be the chink that breaks the rest of the dam, if D.C.'s leaders play this well.
How does that happen?
First of all, it can't be just a local government push. The District's big business interests need to sign on to a letter saying that boosting height limits is a good idea, or at least that they wouldn't oppose it. The National Capital Planning Commission, the federal body charged with guiding the District's development, also needs to be on board. Support from the General Services Administration, with its new D.C.-rooted chief, would help as well.
Second of all, there needs to be a plan. The city of Austin, Texas, for example, put together a detailed map of where additional height should and shouldn't go. While this reporter would be happy to let the private market sort that out for itself, something with more community input could ease worries about taking such an historic step. I'm willing to bet that the Office of Planning is quietly working on something to this effect.
That's the thing: Whatever form this change might take, it's definitely not going to mean giant skyscrapers obstructing views from Meridian Hill Park to the White House. The District's federal overlords wouldn't stand for it; neither would many local residents.
But that's not the entirety of the city, by a long shot. And even if buildings were simply allowed to grow by a floor or two downtown, I'm pretty sure even the strongest opponent wouldn't notice.