Height Act Hearing Reveals Opposition To a Taller DC

  • October 29th 2013

by Shilpi Paul

Height Act Hearing Reveals Opposition To a Taller DC: Figure 1
Image from the OP’s plan.

A DC Council hearing regarding the Office of Planning’s recommendation to alter the Height Act revealed an emphatic wave of opposition from the public.

On Monday, Harriet Tregoning, Director of the Office of Planning, presented the OP’s recommendations to Congress regarding the Height Act of 1910 to the DC Council. Thirty-five attendees also presented their testimony.

As we’ve reported in the past, the OP recommended that the federal height limit should be raised within L’Enfant City, and eliminated beyond it. (See the L’Enfant City boundaries here.)

If the federal ban is lifted, we wouldn’t immediately see a taller city: there would have to be a new comprehensive plan, established by the DC Council, and new zoning code, established by the Zoning Commission.

By giving the city the ability to raise heights, said Tregoning, they will have the opportunity to accommodate a growing population. “If we don’t act, there will be issues in regards to our capacity to grow,” stressed Tregoning.

Height Act Hearing Reveals Opposition To a Taller DC: Figure 2

After about five hours of testimony from residents, Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Muriel Bowser grilled Tregoning, trying to get to the root of the overwhelming opposition. Mendelson noted that 33 of the 35 witnesses spoke out against the plan.

Many witnesses emphatically defended the current look of the city, stating that changing the height limit would alter something that is crucial to the character of the city.

Some also expressed skepticism that supply-and-demand holds in this situation, and that lifting the limit would trickle down to alleviate the District’s need for affordable housing. Multiple witnesses mentioned that the apartments and condos in “high-rise” buildings would be luxury units with high price tags.

Tregoning defended the logic.

“It ends ups affecting everybody,” said Tregoning. “Let’s say we don’t build new $600,000 units. Then people looking for those units start looking at $400,000 properties and bidding those prices up. It affects our entire housing market.”

Tregoning stressed that housing prices in the city were on a steep upward curve, in danger of keeping people from being able to afford DC. “Attracting and maintaining middle class households is vital,” she said.

Bowser was in agreement, but more hesitant. “I share your view that more people paying taxes here is a good thing,” said Bowser. “We should grow, as a city. But I don’t want us to go willy-nilly into changing the very thing that makes us special in how our city looks.”

Tregoning also reiterated that their recommendation simply shifts the decision from Congress to the District, empowering the city and its residents.

If the Council does not want to raise heights anywhere, said Tregoning, they can opt to change nothing in the comprehensive plan. But if, twenty years now, they want to, they won’t have to first convince Congress.

“I made the presumption that we are interested collectively in more autonomy for the District,” said Tregoning.

Bowser diagnosed what she felt was the issue: “It’s about trust. You want the District to control heights outside of the core [L’enfant City]. Do people trust us?”

The Office of Planning and the National Capital Planning Commission are holding a public hearing on Wednesday evening. They will be revising the drafts of their recommendations before sending them to Congress in November.

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/height_act_hearing_reveals_opposition_to_a_taller_dc/7749.

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