Housing Complex

We’re Close to a Height Act Compromise

heightNCPCThe two proposals for modifications of the Height Act don't appear to have much in common. The Office of Planning proposal would raise height limits within the historic L'Enfant City and free D.C. from congressional control over building heights outside of it. The National Capital Planning Commission proposal would retain the Height Act's 1910 limits citywide, while allowing a small window for potential future changes outside the L'Enfant City.

And yet, as conversations this afternoon with D.C. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning and NCPC planner Will Herbig helped me appreciate, when it comes to the practical differences between the two sets of recommendations on building heights in most of the city, there aren't any.

This is not obvious from reading the two proposals, due to the vast difference in emphasis. The Office of Planning proposal scraps the Height Act for all but the L'Enfant City, roughly the area south of Florida Avenue and west of the Anacostia River; the NCPC proposal keeps it intact there.

But under both proposals, any actual changes to height limits would come through the Comprehensive Plan process. If the Office of Planning proposal becomes law, there will be no federal height limits in Petworth or Tenleytown or Hillcrest, but if the city wants to allow actual taller buildings, it'll make that change through zoning and a new Comprehensive Plan—which needs to be approved by the NCPC and not rejected within 30 days by Congress. If the NCPC has its way, the height limits won't change anywhere in D.C., but outside the L'Enfant City, the District can study and adopt changes to those height limits—provided they're approved by the NCPC and not rejected within 30 days by Congress.

There's surely some face-saving coming from both sides in using such different language to describe what, in effect, is the same proposal. But it does mean that, following vast differences between the two positions prior to the latest NCPC recommendations, we may be looking at something resembling a final compromise that could lead to a single, joint report to Congress.

Of course, there's still a major conflict between the two proposals: what happens inside the L'Enfant City. The Office of Planning proposed changing the formula so building heights would be limited to no more than 1.25 times the width of the adjacent street—slightly higher in some places than what's currently allowed. The NCPC rejects that approach and wants to keep the limits where they are (generally, the width of the street plus 20 feet, with a hard cap at 90 feet on residential streets and 130 feet on most commercial ones). This is not a negligible difference, given the demand for new construction and taller buildings downtown.

The NCPC will vote on the final recommendations tomorrow, following public testimony and debate. It's sure to be lively; nearly 40 witnesses have signed up to testify. If the NCPC votes to adopt the recommendations and send them to Congress, Tregoning says the Office of Planning will act immediately, in consultation with Mayor Vince Gray, to sign onto those recommendations or submit a different set to Congress.

Rendering from the Office of Planning's report

Comments

  1. #1

    SO WHAT IS THE BENEFIT TO THE CITY TO HAVE TALLER BUILDINGS?

    THIS PUSH THAT BIGGER IS BETTER IS WHAT DROVE THE AUTO INDUSTRY TO THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION. THIS IS OBVIOUSLY SOME WHITE FOLK BULLSHIT BOLSTERED BY GREED AND SELF GRANDIOSE BY THOSE JERK WADS WHO WHAT TO MAKE A NAME FOR THEMSELVES.

    TALLER BUILDINGS = LARGER CARBON FOOTPRINT
    TALLER BUILDINGS = LESS SUN FOR GREEN SPACE
    TALLER BUILDINGS = LESS SIGHT LINES
    TALLER BUILDINGS = WIND TUNNELIZATION

    ENOUGH ALREADY!

  2. #2

    noodlez, that may be true, but think of the opportunities for more low-income housing or mixed-use housing? If the outside of L'Enfant City is what gets taller, I see more opportunities for growth in offices, small business districts and residences. Plus, do you really think NCPC is going to allow major height changes? Or Congress?

    Personally, I'm not worried about the carbon footprint. I'm worried about the opportunity snatching and what's the seemingly normalized grab-the-land-and-stay-there-for-five-years-til-I-build-something trend. Or the grab-it-and-build-ugly-crap trend.

  3. #3

    This will not lead to lower housing costs, nor an appreciable amount of 3+ bedroom units suitable for families.
    It may provide additional housing for DINKs and SINKs, and thereby very marginally reduce development pressure on outplaying neighborhoods, but even this is not certain and is very much a mixed bag in that the local merchants in those outlying neighborhoods would likely lose that prospective sales revenue.

  4. #4

    THAT LOW-INCOME THEORY IS PURE BULLPUCKY. THERE ARE SET ASIDES AVAIL NOW IN LOW RISES THAT AREN'T GETTING RENTED OR SOLD BECAUSE "THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH" IN THE CITY.

    MIXED USE HOUSING???? INQUIRING MINDS WOULD LOVE TO KNOW HOW GROWTH IN AN OFFICE SPACE TIES INTO THE HEIGHT LIMIT ARGUMENT?

    SLIM D.C.'S INFRASTRUCTURE (METRO, ROADS & ETC.)CAN'T HANDLE THE NUMBERS NOW! LET ALONE AN INFLUX OF ANOTHER GROUP OF FOLK SEEKING SOME SPECIAL TREATMENT BY BUILDING UPWARD. MORE PEOPLE MEANS MORE GARBAGE, MEANS MORE RATS MEANS MORE FILTH. THIS IS THE NATIONS CAPITAL OF THE UNITED STATES NOT NEW YORK CITY.

    DUDE UGLY IS ONLY IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER.

    SLIM YOU GOTTA COME UP WITH SOME BETTER SHIT THAN WHAT YOU JUST PULLED OUTTA YOUR ASS!

  5. #5

    "THIS IS OBVIOUSLY SOME WHITE FOLK BULLSHIT "

    keeping heights down, will keep office space moving to further out, and will send more affluent residents into transitioning neighborhoods, and will speed the gentrification of the District. Black renters will be hurt by that, though black homehowners eager to cash out may benefit.

  6. #6

    "TALLER BUILDINGS = LARGER CARBON FOOTPRINT"

    lower carbon front then having more sprawling development in the suburbs.

    "TALLER BUILDINGS = LESS SUN FOR GREEN SPACE"

    the minor proposed increases in height will leave lots of sun, esp if they are on limited parcels.

    "TALLER BUILDINGS = LESS SIGHT LINES"

    That was addressed in the presentations. And taller building in friendship hghts, practically across the street from taller maryland buildings, will not impact sight lines at all.

    "TALLER BUILDINGS = WIND TUNNELIZATION"

    Not at the heights proposed, again especially if only applied to limited parcels.

    Thanks for capitalizing everything. It helps me to hear.

  7. #7

    "MIXED USE HOUSING???? INQUIRING MINDS WOULD LOVE TO KNOW HOW GROWTH IN AN OFFICE SPACE TIES INTO THE HEIGHT LIMIT ARGUMENT? "

    You could require a housing component to new office buildings that want the extra height. You could impose all sorts of conditions.

  8. #8

    DREZ, I have YET and I mean YET to understand how this makes housing affordable for low income people. I've seen proponents of raising the limit here, GGW et. al and each relies on the same "more affordable housing" spill but never gives any relevant examples of where it's happening.

    This is the problem w/many of these "growth [insert whatever kind]) advocates. Many of their idea are truly "progressive" but the stated motivation behind their desire to see these changes are disingenuous at best.

    Bike lanes, streetcars, zoning, height limit, affordable housing, gentrification etc. Take your pick, it's all in there.

  9. #9

    You could require a housing component to new office buildings that want the extra height. You could impose all sorts of conditions.

    An example of a MUD successful in creating affordable housing is what?

  10. #10

    Actually, noodlez, the buildings have larger carbon footprints, but the carbon footprint for the city goes down as fewer cars are used and large buildings use their power more efficiently. Manhattan's carbon footprint seems huge until it's looked at per capita.

    Having said that, I don't want taller buildings within the L'Enfant city.

  11. #11

    SE

    lots of new buildings in Arlington have affordable housing (exchanged for a density bonus). I am less familiar with IZ in DC, which is still a pretty new program, I guess.

    SE4 have you ever studied intro econ? When demand is increasing, and you limit supply, you make the product much more expensive. Taking away the limits on supply may not make prices decrease (if demand continues to grow) but it makes it cheaper than it would otherwise be.

    DC will never be as cheap as it was when most people in the region were afraid to live there - and when there fewer jobs in the region. But allowing more supply will make it more affordable than it would otherwise be.

  12. #12

    @OH-WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU BEEN DOWNTOWN???
    DC GOTS MORE OFFICE SPACE AVAIL THAN BIZNASSES NEED.
    TOO MUCH SUPPLY IS ALREADY FLOODING THE MARKET.

    THEN SEND THEIR ASSES TO THE BURBS OR WHAT IS LEFT OF IT.
    GREED AND ITS BYPRODUCTS ARE SQUEEZING WHAT IS LEFT OUT OF THE UNDERCLASS OF FOLK IN THE CITY AND THEY ARE LEFT WITH NO OPTIONS AS IT IS!

    I DON'T WANT ANY SUN TAKEN AWAY.
    I DON'T CARE HOW SMALL IT IS.
    MINOR INCREASES NOW MEANS MINOR INCREASE LATER.
    HEIGHT LIMIT CREEP WILL HAPPEN ONCE THOSE GREEDY ASS BAMMAS CRACK THE CODE AND GET MINIMAL INCREASES NOW.

    WHY DO FOLK KEEP BRINGING UP MARYLAND AND VA BORDER LINES AS EXAMPLES? THEY ARE NOT IN THE CITY AND WE DON'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THEY CAN OR CANNOT SEE!

    ON A CLEAR DAY DRIVING SOUTH ON ANY MAJOR THOROUGHFARE ONE COULD TAKE IN THE SIGHT LINES & CITYSCAPE OF WASHINGTON, D.C. RELISH IN THE BEAUTY OF THIS MAGNIFICENT AND MAJESTIC CITY. GREEDYS ASS MOFO'S WHAT TO MINIMIZE THAT TO MAXIMIZE THEIR POCKET BULGE BECAUSE THEY CANT PRODUCE BULGES NATURALLY!

    @FAB-AVERAGING OUT THE STRESS HUMANS PLACE ON THIS PLANET DOESN'T MAKE IT ANY LESS. AS I STATED BEFORE METRO AND DC ROADS CANT HANDLE THE NUMBERS NOW!
    ONE LAST THING:DC IS NOT ANOTHER FUCKING MANHATTAN!!!

    NO HEIGHT LIMITS.

  13. #13

    @Oh, thanks but I'm not familiar enough w/those in Arlington either. I guess I was really looking for info on MUD in cities similar to DC that has been successful in its planned affordable housing efforts.

    No, I haven't studied economics but I was more interested in application rather than theory. I want to see examples of where this mixed-use has been successful...especially as it applies to using it as an argument in favor of raising the height limit.

  14. #14

    Preach noodlez!

Leave a Comment

Blogs Linking to this Article

  1. Morning Links - Loose Lips

    [...] Arts Roundup: Ingenuity Edition The Needle: Bulletproof Wallet Chang Weisberg Explains What We Already Know About Rock the Bells’ Cancellation Housing Finance Boss Put on Administrative Leave, Hires Michael Vick’s Attorney We’re Close to a Height Act Compromise [...]

  2. District Line Daily: Two Licenses Under All - City Desk

    [...] Height limit compromise appears close. [Housing Complex] [...]

Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.
...