Housing Complex

Charge of the Height Brigade

Height Act

Tall Order: The view down 16th Street NW (left), and a rendering with buildings as high as 200 feet in select locations (right).

Last Wednesday, nearly two hours into the second marathon public hearing of the week on D.C. building-height limits, an 83-year-old D.C. resident named Bill Haskett stepped up to the microphone and delivered the sagest line of the contentious process.

“Anything older than I am,” Haskett told the full house at the National Capital Planning Commission, “should be changed.”

Haskett was referring to the 1910 Height of Buildings Act, the federal law that caps D.C. building heights at the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet, with a maximum of 130 feet on most commercial streets and 90 on residential ones. The 61st Congress that passed the law had only 92 senators, because Arizona and New Mexico were still two years—and Alaska and Hawaii a half-century—away from statehood. William Howard Taft was president, and the Model T had just hit the market, though the modern brassiere and zipper had not yet been invented.

The law, whose 1899 predecessor was authored in reaction to the 164-foot Cairo Building on Q Street NW and the firefighting concerns it sparked, has governed the D.C. skyline for 103 years, but may not for much longer. The D.C. Office of Planning, in response to a request from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to conduct a joint study with the NCPC, has proposed altering the formula for building heights in the historic L’Enfant City to allow slightly taller buildings and—in a much bigger step forward for D.C. autonomy—removing height limits from federal control entirely elsewhere in the District.

The recommendation has run into two obstacles. The first is the NCPC, whose own draft proposal suggests no changes to the Height Act outside of a minor alteration to the rules governing mechanical penthouses. The second is a small but vocal group of residents who may or may not represent the broader public opinion but have forcefully opposed the city’s proposal at every public meeting.

The Office of Planning and NCPC are expected to deliver their recommendations—either a joint proposal or two separate ones—to Congress sometime this fall. But Planning Director Harriet Tregoning has already indicated that she may scale back her office’s proposal in response to the public outcry. “I expect that there will be changes to it in response to the public comment,” she said at the D.C. Council hearing on the Height Act last week.

That wouldn’t be Tregoning’s first reversal in the face of loud opposition. In July, she abandoned her plan, as part of the rewrite of the city’s 1958 zoning code, to stop requiring developers to build a minimum number of parking spaces in new buildings near major transit lines because it was, she told me, “really wigging people out.”

Many of those people are the same ones opposing the Height Act changes. But this time, it would be a bigger mistake for Tregoning to give in to their demands.

That’s because on the key element of the city’s Height Act proposal—liberating most of the District from federal control over building heights—there simply isn’t any gray area. On parking minimums, Tregoning retreated to a middle ground between the existing rules and her proposed elimination of the minimums. But there isn’t a halfway point between home rule over building heights and federal control. Either we get to regulate it ourselves or we don’t.

In all the aesthetic debates over D.C. height limits, this crucial point has somehow gotten lost in the mix. There’s a full gradient of verticality that D.C. or Congress can adopt. But the question of freeing D.C.’s skyline from congressional control is binary.

And let’s be clear: In the best-case scenario, we’re still talking about a limited form of home rule. Even if Tregoning’s proposal sticks and gets adopted by Congress, any increases in building height limits have to be approved by D.C.’s Zoning Commission, two of whose five members are appointed by the federal government.

Changes to D.C.’s zoning don’t happen quickly. It’s taken 55 years for the city to propose a comprehensive update to the zoning code, which is now before the Zoning Commission. Should the city be granted autonomy over its building heights, it would essentially have to restart the process, so it could be years before we start seeing any taller buildings in the so-called autonomous part of the city. Even then, don’t expect radical changes; D.C.’s zoning and preservation authorities tend to be pretty conservative. And of course the same people who are objecting to the Height Act changes would surely be objecting to additional height in their neighborhoods—but then they’d actually have a voice in determining their neighborhood skyline, unlike now.

Which is why the case against Height Act home rule is so cynical. By saying that the 1910 law should remain in effect, critics are essentially arguing that the likes of then-House Speaker Joseph G. Gannon of Illinois and Senate President Pro Tempore William P. Frye of Maine (the “majority leader” position had not yet been established) were acting more in D.C.’s interest than the elected local leaders of today.

The clash between the NCPC and Office of Planning over the issue of home rule versus federal interests has existed throughout the Height Act study process. In an April email obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Office of Planning Chief of Staff Tanya Stern objected to the NCPC’s approach of soliciting opinions of the Height Act from people around the country.

“The District’s interests in height is [sic] a home rule issue,” Stern wrote to several NCPC officials. “NCPC can run a national campaign on your own if you choose, but we will insist on a statement that articulates our opposition and reasoning.”

If the NCPC feels its duty is to represent the national interest, and that national interest requires congressional control over how tall buildings can be in Friendship Heights and Congress Heights, well, that’s its prerogative. But D.C.’s leaders should stick to their guns and do all they can to bring home rule to as much of the District’s skyline as they’re able. If they don’t, it could be another 103 years before we have a chance to correct our mistake.

Photo and rendering via the Office of Planning

  • John

    DC frequently makes decisions based on politics and not logic or longterm desires for the city.

    The Height Limit as I understand it was to showcase the Capitol and White House and not let office buildings dominate and dwarf the monuments. So all of the monuments and other significant buildings are owned by the Federal gov. and therefore a strong desire for the Federal gov. to protect them.

    DC seems to be responding to developers desire to make more money and not thinking long term. If the height limit is raised today a small amount and then tomorrow a small amount etc. you soon have a city like NY City. Someone made money on the deal but the city monuments are no longer important or visible for all the clutter. DC City Council does not have a record of protecting the city and its needs. Simply allowing bike paths all over to the minority of the biking population requests shows poor planning. Where is a usable well thought out bike path grid? Redoing Wisconsin Ave. in Glover Park for pedestrians and forgetting the delivery trucks that feed the businesses and leaving no room for them shows poor planning and responding to the anti-auto folks. Closing Klingle Road for a 1/2 mile bike path in the middle of an open road is a political but not necessary or logical action. DC should get control when they show they can exercise good judgment and not political responses.

  • carlosthedwarf

    "DC should get control when they show they can exercise good judgment and not political responses."

    Who gets to decide that? Because it's the residents of DC who elected Gray and this council--why should their votes not count?

  • LoganRes

    John, The height act had nothing to do with the Capitol or monuments. No one is proposing skyscapers along the national mall or in residential neighborhoods. Spreading false statements to create fear is not going to change the growing support for the height limit increase.

  • drez

    It isn't broke and doesn't need to be fixed.

  • drez

    There is no "growing" support for this. ANC after ANC is expressing serious reservations or outright opposition to both this and the proposed zoning rewrite.
    OP and a few activists are the sole passengers on the train.

  • george

    Great argument. There is kind of a grey area though: Tregoning's proposal itself which still strictly limits DC's freedom to do its own zoning.

  • http://westnorth.com PCC

    "The Height Limit as I understand it was to showcase the Capitol and White House" - your understanding is wrong.

    In 1900, the Washington metro area was smaller than the Asheville or Moline metro areas are today. It was a different era in so many regards.

  • Chris

    "... the case against Height Act home rule is so cynical." Wrong. Residents love the singular and special beauty of our city. Proponents of changing the DC Building 'Heights Act' have provided no convincing arguments for the benefits of such change. There is plenty of build-able space in DC neighborhoods. It is no wonder that many long-time residents conclude that this is just another opportunity for the developer community to, again, as with the parking minimum proposal, laugh all the way to the bank.

  • A.Loikow

    The author, like many people, thinks this is a "home rule" proposal, i.e., that Congress will give up its authority permanently. Unfortunately, as long as D.C. is not a state, anything Congress does in inherently temporary and can be revoked at any time for any or no reason at all. Only if the State of New Columbia, consisting of the residential and commercial parts of the current District of Columbia, is admitted to the union, will the citizens of what is now D.C. have the full power of self-government. One need only remember the period of almost a century when Congress totally revoked any right to self-government and the vote from the residents of the District of Columbia (1874-1961).

    In the case the Height Act, it is not an antiquated statute that should be wholesale revoked or revised. First, in many parts of the District, the heights mandated by the act and those limits imposed by the Zoning Regulations are different (zoning limits are often lower). The Zoning Commission can change these so long as the changes are not inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan -- although there are many places where the plan reflects citizen comment that such changes should not happen.

    The assumption that the Height Act needs revising needs to be examined carefully. The Height Act ties maximum heights to the width of streets and use -- commercial or residential. What makes the City of Washington special is that it is planned city. L'Enfant's grand design is sensitive to the city's siting in a topographical bowl formed by the hills surrounding the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. The Height Act protects the scale of the built environment and by protecting the light and air in all parts of the city creates a sense of human scale and spaciousness. As the NCPC staff noted in their report: "It is a skyline not dominated by corporate towers, but a cityscape that reinforces symbolic civic spaces and structures. The Height Act ... contributes to a street-level urban design character that includes broad unlit streets, well-defined consistent street walls, and carefully framed parks and memorials. The law is simple, equitable, and has distributed development to all parts of the city rather than concentrating growth to a single high-rise cluster."

    One of our most important industries and sources of revenue is tourism. One of the things that attracts tourists is the beauty of the city, something to which the Height Act is an important contributor. The beautiful and liveable environment created by the Height Act's limitations is something we should carefully protect whether D.C. is a federal district controlled by Congress or a state with the full right to self-government.

  • SEis4ME

    If I had my choice, I would prefer to keep DC's height limit as it is.

  • http://westnorth.com PC

    "There is plenty of build-able space in DC neighborhoods." I take it you're volunteering your neighborhood first? So glad to see someone welcoming growth in their neighborhood, after watching so many other neighbors manage to have a cow every time someone builds well within existing laws: litigating 5333 Connecticut, hyperventilating about pop-ups, holding up Hine School for a decade, declaring parking lots historic in Southwest and Cleveland Park.

    Look at the image again: OP's proposal is not exactly revolutionary, and won't cause a mass exodus of tourists.

  • AWalkerInTheCity

    "It is a skyline not dominated by corporate towers, but a cityscape that reinforces symbolic civic spaces and structures. The Height Act ... contributes to a street-level urban design character that includes broad unlit streets, well-defined consistent street walls, and carefully framed parks and memorials. The law is simple, equitable, and has distributed development to all parts of the city rather than concentrating growth to a single high-rise cluster"

    the heights proposed are hardly towers. most buildings dominating views in most places ARE privately owned. the views of the monuments are down the avenues (as in any baroque street plan) and are framed by the buildings on the avenues - which would still be true with taller buildings. There are various ways to protect sunlight (unlit streets?) including specifying a limited number of parcels for increased height. A continous wall at street level could be required through a form based code. Development would occur in other parts of the city anyway - but possibly more slowly, making it easier for neighborhoods (which today complain of the frenetic pace of development and gentrification) to adjust.

  • Los

    This has to be the most contrived argument yet in favor of lifting the height restriction: home rule. Let's be clear, just because Congress passes a law affecting DC, that does not automatically mean that DC residents are against it. The height restriction, I would argue, is a rare instance where the law actually reflect the desire of DC residents and the few elected local officials who support lifting the restriction are in fact going against the will of the people. Much like UBER, who know$$$ why.

  • tim

    I completely support the OP plan. It seems like a very reasonable plan that 1) preserves the low slung nature of the skyline 2)doesn't allow high rises (it only raises building heights by 30 to 40 ft downtown) 3) specifically protects views of the Capitol, White House, and Washington Monument and 4) provides DC with more room to grow in the walkable, urban core.

    Realistically though, this plan has about a 0% percent chance of actually happening. A mix of Congressional gridlock and citizen opposition (some based on principled opposition and some based on wild scare tactics like Skyscrapers towering over the national mall) will keep this from ever seeing the light of day.

  • Lyle

    I wish everyone talking about this issue would represent it more faithfully. No one is proposing we allow skyscrapers. Even at the maximum figure they are considering (which won't happen), we are still talking about buildings that in New York are considered "low rises."

    If the act gets amended to allow higher buildings, as it should IMHO, the city will very slowly start to build out to that height. We are not talking about an overnight transformation and we are not talking about skyscrapers.

    We are talking about allowing buildings, especially those in the downtown (non-federal) core, to be 20% taller than they are now - which, as a previous commenter pointed out, is not exactly revolutionary and won't change our city for anything but the better. It will still be a "horizontal" city. It will still be a "planned" city. It will still offer beautiful sight lines to stately monuments. None of the buildings near the actual moment core will be changed (surely that won't be allowed), and so the feel of the federal part of the city will remain exactly the same.

    In short: settle down people and let this city change (a little) with the time...

  • Bob

    Attempting to clothe the Height Act debate as a "home rule" issue is as nonsensical as those who call for restoration of Cleveland Park's "historic" sidewalks by eliminating needed parking, yet deride historic preservation at the same time. Both are a transparent political ploy.

    As a proud Washingtonian, I am sensitive to Federal intrusion into local affairs. And yet, I can think of few Federal interests as important as keeping the visual prominence of the iconic landmarks in (and it is) our Nation's Capital. And from a local standpoint, I love the open vistas, human scale and wonderful light of our unique city. Why make it more like anyplace else in America?

    And @ Logan Res, who states that no one is proposing tall buildings "in residential neighborhoods." Some have said that tall buildings would be appropriate for Tenleytown and Friendship Heights. Just what do you call those areas?!

  • Joe Shmoe


    Tenleytown and Friendship Heights are major shopping neighborhoods. Purely residential neighborhoods don't have commercial districts like that. Most of the opposition to zoning changes comes from the rich people who live communities like that. Many are retirees with time and money to burn. They show up at meetings to argue over everything and sue if they don't get their way. They are holding our city back.

  • Bob


    Tenley and FH are not especially large commercial districts, especially on the DC side. They are about a block wide either side of Wisconsin. What directly abuts those blocks? Single Family residential streets. That's why tall buildings are a non-starter in these areas. No one will want a tall building towering over their homes. Even on the MD side where the FH commercial district is blocks wide, the reason why Saks and the other shops are low rise is to step down to the Chevy Chase neighborhood.

  • Anthony Pirtle

    In a perfect world, I'd say there's no issue that DC's mayor and city council shouldn't be entrusted with as the directly elected representatives of our community. Unfortunately this is not a perfect world, our District government is corrupt and dysfunctional, and I wouldn't trust it to make the right call on this issue, the one that just about every life-long resident I've ever talked to in DC would make, that is to preserve the height limit and not sell our skyline to the highest bidder.

  • tntdc

    Gawd, what a steady drumbeat by the developers mindless shills to let them do what they want ! There's obviously little popular support for destroying Washington with central high rises.

    It's about corruption; how the "Office of Planning" is in regulatory capture to the big developers because of their political money. Ditto for the self-proclaimed "Smarter Growth" industry pollyannas who also gets their funds from them and whose members work for them.

    The surprise at lack of popular support comes because these two live in a echo chamber of only listening to each other instead of consulting with the public at large.

  • DC Guy

    Glad to see Bob is all about protecting the low-rise commercial areas in Friendship Heights and Tenleytown, where the region has invested billions of dollars to "those who have theirs" can enjoy their single family homes and easy metro access to downtown.

    Those areas, in particular, have no relationship to the federal core and increasing height opportunities will do nothing but increase the tax based and provide needed patrons to support something more interesting than mattress stores.

    I fully support maintaining the status quo in the areas where it matters, but the far flung areas of the District are simply ceding tax base to the nearby jurisdictions.

  • Lance

    Glad I got to see the graphic. In it my 2 story 1880s rowhouse just west of 16th Street, AND in a designated historic district has been replaced by a multi-storey building. My whole street has been transformed, my neighborhood is gone. I think this speaks volumes as to why the Height Act should be left as is.

  • Lyle

    @Lance - Exactly right! The moment the act is amended, your entire neighborhood will be razed to the ground and replaced with tall, gray, animated buildings!


    We are not talking about the DC of today. We are talking about how to position DC to be a vibrant and affordable city for the future. Yes, that means that neighborhoods will change. As in: they will not look exactly like they look today. We must think forward and put ourselves in a position to have a city that can responsibly grow. If we pull up the ladder and don't allow more density, we will artificially run up housing costs even faster than they are going up now.

  • Lance

    @Lyle - DC lies in a gigantic bowl. There's lots and lots of room for the city to expand far beyond the District's borders, as it has been doing for decades now. Unlike NYC there's no natural formation forcing us to stay crowded and cramped. We can, and should, be able to enjoy a more human scale for centuries more.

  • Bob

    "We are talking about how to position DC to be a vibrant and affordable city for the future."

    These may be incompatible goals to a great extent. As an area becomes "vibrant" it becomes more attractive at least to a segment of the market, and the prices of real estate and rentals rise.

  • Bob


    This insatiable pursuit of the almighty tax dollar as the driver that should usurp the height limit or upend the zoning code, etc., is certainly a case of misplaced priorities. Certainly a strong tax base is needed, but so is some fiscal discipline (and financial and accounting controls) on the part of the DC government, which seems to spend like a drunken sailor on a per capita basis compared with similar major cities. Or maybe the DC government as crack addict would be a better analogy. Finally, if you do build tall office buildings immediately adjoining expensive single family neighborhoods, what do you think happens to property valuations and your almighty DC tax revenues?!

  • Bob

    Also, someone needs to look at the financial ties of Tregoning's husband to the development lobby.

  • Lyle

    @Bob - Confused...we should aim to keep the city less vibrant? We should discourage people from wanting the types of retail offerings that come only with sufficient density?

    @Lance - The NYC comparisons are so horribly far off base, at least insofar as you are referring to Manhattan. Under no scenario under consideration are we talking about NYC type buildings, so stop going there. It's misleading and dishonest to what's on the table.

    Regarding this bowl of which you speak. Are you volunteering to go live in a far-out, crummy manufactured neighborhood with little retail diversity or access to green space? No, you're not.

    Regarding this debate about property values. Long term values of houses surrounding spots that get an influx of new buildings around transit-oriented development, and the attendant retail diversity that that allows, will see their values rise, not fall, over time.

  • Lance

    Lyle, "Regarding this bowl of which you speak. Are you volunteering to go live in a far-out, crummy manufactured neighborhood with little retail diversity or access to green space?"

    I agree with you that we must grow. But the question before us isn't whether we grow or not, but rather 'how' we grow. Since time immemorial, before steel structures came about at the start of the 20th century, growth meant spreading out ... and creating new centers with new retail diversity and new green space. Take New England as a relatively recent model of that type of organic growth. You have today hundreds of town and villages and relatively small cities there that are of 'the human scale'. Starting shortly after its settlement in the early 17th century, the idea of establishing a new settlement with its own church, townhall and town square came to spread the population into the many livable, human scaled population centers which exist there today. There was no need to grow 'up', and crowded, AND EXPENSIVE like in neighboring New York where the rivers and bays and ocean stiffled horizontal expansion of the population base.

    What you're proposing, as clearly shown in the graphic above where my house, and neighborhood (and even the church next door) are gone, is to kill the very reason, the human scale of Washington, that so many want to live in the city in the first place.

  • Lyle

    @Lance - Your history lesson about the development of New England towns (I hail from one) is interesting, but 250 years off topic. We have seen (and we continue to see) what happens when we relentlessly build out. It is called sprawl and a reaction against it is one of several foundational reasons why people are again interested in livable, walkable cities.

    New England's model of rural growth in the 17 and 1800s is relevant to 2013 like our right to form a militia is relevant to owning assault rifles today. Distant and dated and holding us back.

    Yes, you are correct that this is a question of how we grow. But not allowing more density in already-dense areas is going to make this city more expensive, not less. It's economics of housing supply and if you want to see a modern day lesson in what happens when you artificially control supply, take a look at SF.

    I don't understand why you reference the graphic as if when we pass some sort of compromise act to raise height limits all neighborhoods will transform overnight. That's not the way that development occurs. What it will mean is that new buildings and renovations, as they happen, will be about 20% taller than currently allowed. What is the big deal in that?

    Next time you're pining for DC's lovely historic feel and scale, take a walk down the faceless corridors of downtown DC architecture, which has to be the blandest abominations ever brought to an east coast downtown. You've never wished that one of those buildings could just break through the horizontal plane and be something other than a cube?

    Let's not hold up false choices. We are talking about adding a little bit more density in a low-rise context. Not skyscrapers, just 15 and 16 story buildings instead of 8 and 12.

    Back to the point you raised at the top: we cannot keep spreading out and out without focusing on the urban cores that we actually want and demand. Out of curiosity, where are you suggesting we build these neo-New-Englands? If you want to build the equivalent of Celebration FL in Dulles, be my guest...but that would gobble up land that deserves to be kept as farmland or forest.

    Like it or not, we've got >300M people in this country, and you can't force a city to stop changing. DC wasn't built overnight, it adjusted through time, planned city or not. Don't pull up the ladder. Build smart, build around transit, build density, and yes, protect some unique and historical aspects so that we don't raze all of our proverbial Penn Stations.

    Also: don't be so afraid of NY. It's Manhattan that you have in mind when you break out into a cold sweat. Forget Manhattan and look at Brooklyn. Townhouses and parks. Tree lined streets and farmers markets. Even single family homes. And yes...some high rises in certain areas, too.

  • Lance

    @Lyle "Let's not hold up false choices. We are talking about adding a little bit more density in a low-rise context. Not skyscrapers, just 15 and 16 story buildings instead of 8 and 12."

    "Next time you're pining for DC's lovely historic feel and scale, take a walk down the faceless corridors of downtown DC architecture, which has to be the blandest abominations ever brought to an east coast downtown. You've never wished that one of those buildings could just break through the horizontal plane and be something other than a cube?"

    Isn't this a false choice? Won't we just get '15 or 16' story high cubes vs. our current '8 and 12'?

    As for where I see these 'neo-New-Englands'? Everywhere. As we're already witnessing with the rebuilding or Tysons in Virginia and the White Flint area in MD, the 'sprawl' phase was a transitional one. A blink of the eye. Yes, we all crave that walkable, diversified city where it's not crummy and boring. Most especially, we crave that 'human scale'.

    IMHO, destroying Washington's human scale so that more can enjoy that human scale is self defeating. If we're to be honese with ourselves, we have to admit that the only way for more people to enjoy a city built to the human scale is to build more human scale cities.

  • Lyle

    @Lance - I think we mostly agree. I'm all for infill development and making first gen sprawl communities into walkable towns with urban centers.

    I'm confused why you think slowly adding 20% to the height of our low-rise buildings over the course of the next 50+ years is going to "destroy" DC's human scale. It simply won't. It will still be a city where the tallest buildings are under 20 stories. And in residential neighborhoods, even in mixed-use areas, we at best (or worse, perhaps in your opinion) will see apartment buildings go from 8 stories to 10 or 11 or 12. This is not a sea change. This is not destroying scale.

    Yes, we may get some 15 story cubes. But in my opinion, if all we achieve is slowly breaking the monotony/homogenity of 12 story cubes, then that is an improvement aesthetically. I feel like I'm in some weird pre-fab universe when I walk (daily) the uniform canyon streets of commercial downtown DC.

    More likely, the increased FAR for commercial spaces will allow builders to be a little less stingy with their square footage. I've worked in private-equity real estate - though they certainly look to squeeze every dollar, they are also interested in making something that carries value through time. The only way to do that now in DC is to squeeze out every inch of the building. More height will not only break the monotony, but you will see less boxy builds. Count on it.

    The human scale thing just seems like a nonstarter for me. To my first point in my first post: no one is talking about a radical revamping of the scale of DC. We are talking about a couple extra stories on buildings as they slowly get built.

  • Lance

    @Lyle "Also: don't be so afraid of NY. It's Manhattan that you have in mind when you break out into a cold sweat. Forget Manhattan and look at Brooklyn. Townhouses and parks. Tree lined streets and farmers markets. Even single family homes. And yes...some high rises in certain areas, too."

    And that's the situation we already have.

    There are so many parts of DC just waiting to get redeveloped, I'm not sure I understand the statement by some that they are 'priced out'. We're all always priced out of some place we'd rather be. There was a time when people were priced out of Georgetown and ended up moving instead into the marginal Dupont Circle area (known then for high crime and drugs), then there was a time when people started to get priced out of Dupont Circle and 'forced' to live in Logan Circle (which was at the time simply called Shaw until the Realtors started calling it first 'East Dupont Circle' and then 'Logan Circle'), then as that areaa gentrified people got priced out northward to Columbia Heights (which was a veritable war zone) and eastward to the remaining parts of Shaw which had continued being called Shaw. The cycle continues as people move into Eckington, Petworth, etc. All of which are actually MUCH safer than any of these other areas were when people got 'priced out' to them.

  • Lance

    Lyle, Our messages crossed. But let me respond to your 20 story scenario. Go to 14th Street on a sunny weekend day and walk up the street starting at something like P Street mid afternoon ... going toward U Street. As you go further north you'll notice how different the street becomes because of the long shadows caused by the recent addition of new mid-rises. And those are only mid-rises. High-would be worse. Also, there's the price pressure to redeveloped that gets created the more 'allowable' height you permit. I.e., Developers and current owners might not be enticed to raze their historic charming properties to go up a story or 2, but going up 10 more might be a nice incentive. And while we have historic designation protects in a large part of the city, there're still ways to bring down historic structures ... including 'demolition by neglect' which is actually quite common. (I.e., you stop performing routine maintenance on your historic structure and then claim 'there's no fixing it, so I have to raze it'.) Every year we're losing more an more of the historic fabric of the city to this ....

  • Lyle

    I agree about your concerns about building a functional, beautiful, equitable environment, but I fear that you are beginning to attribute things to height which are more appropriately the fault of other areas of control, like historic preservation and aesthetic review. You are correct that added height could convince some owners, on the margin, to redevelop where before they have not. If this is your primary concern, however, you are starting to get very indirect. There are holdouts in every market. Will 20% more sway a few on the margin? Maybe.

    The point is, the best leverage over whether they destroy a building worth keeping shouldn't be the height act. That's far too indirect, and frankly, there is a lot of long term benefit that comes from allowing more development.

    ...including and especially helping create supply of offices and housing, which you need if you want to keep prices down.

    The shadows-on-14th street concern is probably an area where you and I aren't going to ever see eye to eye. I'm all for increasing height on strips like 14th. By the way, doing this in certain areas (with smart zoning) will in fact abate some of the pressure to build bigger in other areas that you might consider historic.

    Let's recall that a city is not stagnant in time. It feels like you are pining for a historic DC wonderland and I don't know what/when that was. Certainly not any time from 1968 through 2005 or so...DC residents of 1978 would gladly have allowed 15 story buildings if it could have helped drive revitalization and bring in services and stores that had evaporated.

    The biggest fight right now is how to keep places like DC affordable, not how to keep them from being 9-12 stories. And the thing is, those work in opposition - we must be allowed to build new supply to keep housing affordable. Certainly, more density on current lots is not the only way to do this, we must demand affordable housing from developers and support the neediest with more direct housing assistance as well. But if we don't keep pace with supply, then the pace of turnover from previously low-priced apartments to new condos will only accelerate. Please deeply consider that fact. And if you want some interesting reading on the issue, consider this recent piece about San Francisco...

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  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    Wait a minute, Lance lives on the 1600 block of S Street.

    "...has been replaced by a multi-storey building. My whole street has been transformed, my neighborhood is gone."

    Where has anything been replaced with a multi-story building there? (Worth noting, a two-story house is a multi-story building.)

    I'm curious, that's some serious hyperbole without some detail.

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