Housing Complex

Careful Not to “Thrust” Unwanted Authority on D.C., House Passes Minor Height Act Change

This skyline's about to be transformed as mechanical penthouses gain additional uses.

This skyline's about to be transformed as mechanical penthouses gain additional uses.

Well, D.C., you got what you asked for.

Heeding the D.C. Council's plea not to give the city any more control over its own building heights, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a change yesterday to the 104-year-old Height of Buildings Act that's notable only for its lack of ambition. In the very likely event that the bill, approved 367-16 in the House, passes the Senate and gains the president's signature, District building owners will win the ability to create inhabitable spaces on rooftops currently reserved for mechanical penthouses.

Rep. Darrell Issa, the conservative California Republican chairman of the committee with District oversight who's become the staunchest ally of D.C. autonomy on Capitol Hill, acknowledged that his efforts to cede some congressional power to the District appeared to have been unwelcome. Congress, he said, would not "thrust" authority on a city government that did not want it, according to the Washington Times.

The administration of Mayor Vince Gray had pressed for more city control over building heights in its recommendation to Congress, before the Council and Congress weighed in. The current Height Act limits buildings to a maximum of 130 feet on most commercial streets and 90 feet on residential ones, with far lower limits on many streets around town.

Of course, it wouldn't be a debate over D.C.'s future without the input of Louie Gohmert. The colorful Texas Republican, known for his outlandish claims about "terror babies" and for accusing the attorney general of "cast[ing] aspersions on my asparagus," has a proclivity for introducing bills to give D.C.—or most of it, anyway—back to Maryland. He's also argued that D.C. doesn't need a voting representative in Congress, because the 435 members of the House are already looking out for it.

Yesterday, Gohmert warned his colleagues that they were heading down a slippery slope with this small Height Act change that could lead to bigger ones, like a ”camel’s nose going under the tent,” according to Roll Call.

But with the D.C. Council and the National Capital Planning Commission opposed, and with watchdogs like Gohmert around, it'd have to be one powerful camel to lift that tent above the 130-foot limit.

Photo from the NCPC