D.C. to Congress: Give Us Some Control Over Building Heights
The D.C. government formally submitted its recommendations for changes to the Height Act to Congress today, standing firm on its earlier stance that the city should be given a degree of control over its building heights. The move comes a day after the National Capital Planning Commission rejected any many changes to the 1910 law, opting instead to retain full federal control over caps on the height to which D.C. buildings can rise.
The D.C. recommendations, prepared by the Office of Planning, would alter the formula for height limits in the historic L'Enfant City, setting the maximum height at 1.25 times the width of the adjacent street. More significantly, the proposal would free the city from the Height Act entirely outside of the L'Enfant City, allowing the D.C. government to propose height increases that would need to be approved by the NCPC and Congress.
"This approach shifts more decision-making to local control—especially in areas where the federal interest is less significant—in order to accommodate future population growth while at the same time protecting prominent national monuments, memorials, and the unique character of local neighborhoods," the Office of Planning stated in a press release this evening.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called on the city and the NCPC to conduct a joint Height Act study just over a year ago and requested recommendations for potential changes to the law by this fall. Now that the NCPC—which voted yesterday to change only some outdated language and the rules governing occupancy of penthouses—and the city have submitted strikingly different proposals, it'll be up to Congress to decide which approach is better.
Issa, whose chairs the House committee with oversight of D.C. affairs that's likely to hold a hearing on Height Act next month, told Roll Call today that there's a “very good chance” that his committee will settle on a “nuanced position that is between the two that empowers the city to do more, but recognizes that there have to be some controls.”
Photo and rendering from the Office of Planning