The Public Opinion on DC’s Height Act

by Shilpi Paul

image
The Cairo, one of DC’s tallest residential buildings.

Over the past year, the debate regarding the city’s Height Act, a federal law that limits the height of buildings throughout the city, has heated up. Would taller buildings increase office and residential space and bring down rents? Would less of a height restriction allow builders more creativity, and would we see fewer boxy structures that maximize square footage?

While the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations governing height will not be changing anytime in the near future, the city has launched a study to investigate just how appropriate the Height Act still is to the city. In the fall, the National Capitol Planning Commission and DC’s Office of Planning announced the start of the Height Master Plan study. Tonight, they will hold their first public meeting at the Petworth Library.

Ultimately, the group is interested in figuring out of if DC’s Height Act, which is 100 years old, is still working. The first goal of the study, said NCPC project manager David Zaidain, is to determine if there are areas of the city where adjusting the height act wouldn’t impact federal interests.

“We have this federal law that is right now applied District-wide,” said Zaidain. “It’s applied the same way in Friendship Heights as it is next to the National Mall as it is in outer SE or NE.” If there are portions of the city that don’t have an effect on what is considered a national interest, perhaps those areas could be relieved from the federal Height Act and left to the discretion of local zoning regulations, thinks Zaidain.

Researchers involved with the study will also be modelling various possibilities, virtually adjusting height levels in various parts of the city and looking at perspectives from different vantage points. The results of this modelling will be released to the public in the summer.

Another aspect of the study is cross cultural: they will be looking at how different cities around the world manage the issue of height. “Whether it is a city like Paris, which has some similarities to DC, or a city like Vancouver, which has very tall buildings, or London which has clusters of high-rises, each city has taken a different approach to managing height,” said Zaidain.

Tonight, the NCPC will be discussing the larger goals of the plan with the public and soliciting feedback at this early stage. They have posted a few initial questions on their website with the hope that attendees will take a look and come to the meeting with thoughts. UrbanTurf will follow up with an account of the meeting tomorrow.

See other articles related to: national capitol planning commission, height act

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/could_the_height_act_be_modified_a_study_launches/7055

5 Comments

  1. Will said at 2:33 pm on Monday May 13, 2013:

    I can’t help but be reminded of that alternate ending to Terminator 2 in which DC is pictured (in the not-so-distant future of 2027) having all sorts of modern skyscrapers. I think it would be nice to incorporate more modern structures alongside the beauty of the traditional national architecture. We could use a few taller buildings to spice it up.

  1. Ele said at 3:57 pm on Monday May 13, 2013:

    “Would less of a height restriction allow builders more creativity, and would we see fewer boxy structures that maximize square footage?”

    No - I am an architect. The height restriction has nothing to do with the design of most new buildings and everything to do with the greed or bad taste of the developer.

    Personally I think the height restriction is what keeps DC’s character intact. DC feels different than any other city in the US with clear sight lines and buildings of an approachable scale with pedestrian friendly streets sides. It is our Capitol. Leave it be.

  1. justin s said at 4:02 pm on Monday May 13, 2013:

    Has anyone checked what percentage of city space is currently even close to being maxed out due to height?

    I’d be surprised if it was more than 1 to 3%. I’ve been watching this debate for a few years and it seems like a bait-and-swap where a few developers are playing to people’s fears of underdevelopment in an effort to get a few random pet projects approved.

    The short of it is that most neighborhoods are full of 1 to 3 story buildings that are sitting on spaces that could be 5-14 stories under current zoning rules. No one’s building on THOSE spaces, so doesn’t that make most of the pro-height argument total BS?

  1. tim said at 10:53 am on Tuesday May 14, 2013:

    Re: Justin.  I agree with you in that officially only 1-3% of the city is maxed out due to the height limit. 

    But, effectively only a small share of the city’s core is left to develop.  Yes, in theory DC could follow a European model and redevelop its core from 2-3 rowhouses and small yards into Parisian-style 5-6 apartment buildings.  But, in practice we all know that is never going to happen.

    Seems a more realistic model is selectively raising the height limit in the CBD.  Carve out protective zones from the WH, Penn Ave, and the Mall.  But, raise the limit from 130 ft to even just 300 ft.  Currently, 90% of downtown DC is a 9-5 office ghetto.  Imagine how much different DC could be if we set a goal to add 100,000-50,000 residents.  Connecticut Ave south of DuPont could be transformed into a grand shopping boulevard alla Michigan Avenue.  Instead it’s largely lifeless (save some night life) lunch-break retail corridor.  DC’s empty urban squares could become civic centers like Madison Square or Union Square in NYC. 

    Peer cities like Philly, Chicago, SF, Boston have all embraced the living downtown movement.  It’s DC’s time.  Let’s turn Downtown from a soulless sea of 9-5 office blocks into a vibrant mixed use center that is truly the heart of a growing mega-region of 8 million people.

  1. dave said at 11:34 am on Monday May 27, 2013:

    I agree with Ele completely.  Removing the height limitiation won’t make for a better city, it will only make for a different one.  Have you been to Dubai?  Interesting, but unlivable.  If you want skyscrapers that shade our streets instead of trees, if you want an over development and acceleration of prices in one section (NW), while the rest of the City deteriorates, then move to NYC.  And if you think traffic is bad now, add another city on top of the buildings we have and see how long it takes to get in or out or cross town then without a comprehensive metro.

Join the discussion

UrbanTurf now requires registration in order to post comments. Register here, or login below if you are already registered.

Click here if you forgot your password.




 

James Braeu

Coldwell Banker Dupont

202-215-2240

Serving:

U Street Corridor

NEW!

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We’ve collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Ballston
Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Clarendon
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Rosslyn
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
Shirlington
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
Huntington
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
Parkfairfax
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »

Maryland

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Annapolis
Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bethesda
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
Potomac
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
Wheaton
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Hyattsville
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Bloomingdale
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
Brightwood
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
Burleith
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
Crestwood
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
Georgetown
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
Kalorama
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
Palisades
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Petworth
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
Shaw
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Takoma
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Tenleytown
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

Brookland
New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
Deanwood
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Eckington
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
Langdon
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
NoMa
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Rosedale
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
Trinidad
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Woodridge
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 'hoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Hillcrest
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾