D.C. Recommends Major Changes to Height Act
Two weeks after the National Capital Planning Commission recommended only very minor changes to the Height Act, the District has come out with its own proposals. And they're considerably more dramatic.
The proposals, conveyed in a letter today from Mayor Vince Gray to Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican who requested the D.C.-NCPC joint study of the Height Act, suggest two main changes to the 1910 law governing the maximum height of buildings in D.C.
First, the D.C. Office of Planning, which led the District's efforts on the Height Act, recommends altering the formula for determining maximum heights—currently the width of the street plus 20 feet, with a cap of 90 feet on residential streets and 130 feet on most commercial streets. The Office of Planning recommends a new building-height-to-street-width ratio of 1.25:1, resulting in a maximum height of 200 feet for buildings on a 160-foot street.
But that only applies within the historic L'Enfant City—roughly bounded by Florida Avenue and the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. The Office of Planning's second proposal is to free the city from any federal height restrictions outside this area, since there's a lesser federal interest in thee farther-flung regions of the city. In these areas, the Office of Planning recommends to Congress that the District be able to set its own height limits through its Comprehensive Plan and zoning process.
The city and NCPC are expected to submit their recommendations to Congress in November. Before then, they'll need either to reconcile the vastly different proposals—NCPC's report recommended keeping the height limits substantially unchanged—or to present Congress with two divergent plans and leave the decision to the federal body's discretion.
Update, 5:51 p.m.: The Office of Planning analysis points to D.C.'s recent and ongoing population growth, which will require more development capacity in order to meet demand. The analysis projects that population and job growth will require somewhere between 157 million and 317 million square feet of new development by 2040. The current height limits, the Office of Planning determines, will not realistically allow the city to reach those levels of development.
"Even under just 30 years of forecasts," the report states, "the current height limits constrain our ability to meet our expected growth."
That not only restricts the city's ability to grow, but also makes the city less affordable and reduces its ability to raise its resident tax base—a necessity when D.C. is barred from collecting a commuter tax. "The District’s goal is for greater development capacity through increased heights to make more affordable housing possible in the city and enable a higher percentage of jobs added to the city being held by District residents who would pay income taxes to the District," the report states.
Below is the Office of Planning's full report:
Rendering from the Office of Planning's report