NCPC Releases Recommendations Regarding the Height Act

  • September 12th 2013

by Shilpi Paul

NCPC Releases Recommendations Regarding the Height Act: Figure 1
The Cairo, one of DC’s tallest residential buildings.

At a meeting Thursday afternoon, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) will officially release a draft of their recommendations to Congress regarding their recent study of DC’s Height Act.

As we’ve reported throughout the summer, the NCPC and the Office of Planning have spent the last few months investigating the possibility of altering the Height of Buildings Act of 1910 in order to prepare a series of recommendations to Congress.

While the recommendations may disappoint those who were hoping for a drastically taller DC, the report, which you can find here, does recommend that the areas outside the topographic bowl, a relatively close-in boundary that is pictured below, could be considered for taller development.

NCPC Releases Recommendations Regarding the Height Act: Figure 2

NCPC notes that many buildings in these areas are not yet built up to the current height restriction, stating: “Local zoning across much of this part of the city is well below the limits established in the current Height Act.” The underlying message here is that the limit is currently under the purview of the District, which can choose to loosen the zoning code in these areas if they want to build up to taller heights. There is room to act without changing the Height Act.

The other major recommendation has to do with changing the restrictions regarding penthouses and rooftops. Readers may recall that this topic is what started the whole process. Last summer, at a Congressional hearing that was held to discuss the possibility of relaxing or eliminating the Height Act, Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning testified that the rules regarding rooftop use should be examined and possibly altered.

“While allowed, these roof structures have been limited in their use to mechanical purposes (elevator overrides, building mechanicals) and are currently prohibited from uses that qualify as ‘human occupancy’ such as recreation rooms or office space,” stated Tregoning at the time. “Allowing their use for more active purposes will have no real impact on the overall maximum heights of buildings as permitted by the 1910 Height Act and will not impact the District’s recognizable and historic skyline.”

The report supports Tregoning’s reasoning, and makes a formal recommendation to loosen the restriction:

“Permitting a broader range of active uses in most parts of the city, if properly implemented and with certain restrictions, does not appear to affect federal interests in most instances. And, as noted in the District of Columbia’s testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, allowing occupancy of penthouses may also increase the city’s tax base.”

As far as areas within the topographic bowl, or what is considered DC’s core, NCPC thinks it best that they not be touched, no doubt disappointing proponents of relaxing the city’s height restrictions. “Based on the visual modeling work conducted as part of the Height Study, changes to the Height Act within the L’Enfant City and within the topographic bowl may have a significant adverse effect on federal interests,” states the report. Views of monuments and iconic federal structures are at risk, found the NCPC, and the “character” of public areas would be impacted. As we reported earlier this summer, some people were “horrified” by the images, created by a team working with NCPC and the Office of Planning, that modeled what the core of DC would look like with taller buildings.

According to Housing Complex, the Office of Planning will be releasing a draft of their recommendations at some point in the next week. The NCPC and OP will hold a series of public meetings over the next month to discuss the reports, and will be finalizing the recommendations later this fall before submitting them to Congress.

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ncpc_releases_recommendations_regarding_the_height_act/7544.

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