The Discussion Continues: Congress Considers Height Act

  • December 2nd 2013

by UrbanTurf Staff

The Discussion Continues: Congress Considers Height Act: Figure 1

On Monday, a congressional committee considered the two sets of recommendations regarding the future of building heights in the nation’s capital. However, anyone hoping for a major conclusion will be disappointed as today’s talks served as just a starting point for the future of DC building heights.

Here is a quick refresher on those two sets of recommendations.

When committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) began examining the prospect of revising the Height Act back in 2012, he requested that the National Capitol Planning Commission (NCPC) and the city’s Office of Planning (OP) conduct a study into relaxing the height limits.

A few weeks ago, advocates for a taller DC were dealt what was considered at the time a lethal blow when the NCPC scaled back a recommendation that laid out a path to taller buildings outside the L’Enfant boundaries of the city, instead recommending to Congress that the federal Height Act of 1910 be kept as is.

A few days later, the Office of Planning announced that it was submitting more aggressive recommendations separately, giving Congress the chance to consider both positions. In the conclusions, the OP laid out a process for increasing heights in a targeted manner. The federal Height Act should stay in place, recommended the OP, “unless and until the District completes an update to the District Elements of the Comprehensive Plan.” In the future, if the city decides during a comprehensive planning process that heights should go up in some areas, and the NCPC and Congress approve of the recommendation, the Height Act would be lifted in those areas and remain in the rest of the city. Any zoning changes would need to be approved by the Zoning Commission.

On Monday, Issa expressed concern over the fact that the NCPC and OP came to such divergent recommendations regarding the Act, and pledged that considerations about the recommendations would not close until all aspects were considered.

The discussion at today’s hearing bounced around from issue to issue, including the significant square footage that would be added to the city if height limits were raised and the importance of preserving the viewpoints of national monuments. Whether or not raising the limit would lead to more affordable housing in DC was also front and center.

“DC is on the path to becoming a city of national monuments surrounded by exclusive neighborhoods affordable to only a few,” the Office of Planning’s Harriet Tregoning said, referring to the increasing cost of housing in the city.

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton questioned how exactly taller buildings would result in more affordable housing to which there wasn’t a clear answer. Other committee members echoed the affordable housing issue.

“There is no one in DC that wants cheaper rent than me,” Rep. Mark Meadows (NC) boldly stated. “But I don’t know how adding two stories to downtown buildings translates into more affordable housing.”

By in large, not much was decided at today’s hearing. Rep. Issa pledged that the committee would continue looking at the recommendations and working on the issue, but no clear timeline was set for moving forward.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/congressional_height_act_hearing_turns_to_affordable_housing_debate/7878.

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