Norton to Gray and Mendelson: Please Stop Bickering Over the Height Act
Fresh off a congressional hearing at which disagreements among D.C. leaders over the Height Act came to the fore, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, sent a letter to Mayor Vince Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson yesterday with a simple message: Your bickering is not helping matters.
D.C. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning testified at the hearing on Monday in favor of greater D.C. autonomy over building height limits in parts of the city—limits that are currently set by the 1910 federal law and can only be changed by an act of Congress. But Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who presided over the hearing, expressed surprise that Mendelson and the Council had issued the opposite plea, requesting in a symbolic resolution that Congress not change the Height Act and instead keep full control over D.C.'s height limits.
"I heard to my astonishment, for the first time ever, a rejection of home rule," Issa said at the hearing. "I did not expect people to say, 'Please don't give me authority, I can't be trusted.'"
That left Norton in the awkward position of pushing for D.C. autonomy, a leading goal of hers, while also cautioning against a more vertical skyline that didn't have the support of D.C.'s elected legislators.
So yesterday, Norton sent a letter to Gray and Mendelson in which she warned "against indications that local elected officials cannot reach agreement on matters affecting the city’s own governance."
The full letter is below:
December 4, 2013
Dear Mayor Gray and Chairman Mendelson:
As you are aware, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on Monday, entitled “Changes to the Heights Act: Shaping Washington, DC for the Future Part II,” to consider the recommendations of the D.C. Office of Planning and the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) from the Height Act study requested by Chairman Darrell Issa. Although the positions of the D.C. Office of Planning and the NCPC differ, I do not believe that their positions are irreconcilable if city leaders engage in appropriate discussions. Serious conversations among city leaders should be able to take into account the understandable concerns of some residents who want more certainty against undesirable changes. Considering our continuous efforts to defend and expand home rule, I caution against indications that local elected officials cannot reach agreement on matters affecting the city’s own governance.
Please let me know if I can be at all helpful.
Eleanor Holmes Norton
Photo by Darrow Montgomery