NCPC: No Major Height Act Changes

by UrbanTurf Staff

NCPC: No Major Height Act Changes: Figure 1

Those hoping to see taller buildings in DC at some point in the next decade will be disappointed by a decision made late Tuesday.

After a lengthy proceeding, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) voted to recommend that the 1910 Height Act be maintained citywide, with a vague recommendation to “further study” the possibility of raising heights outside of the boundaries of the L’Enfant City at an undetermined point in the future, pulling back significantly from a draft of the Executive Director’s recommendations (EDR) that was released earlier this week.

The revised recommendation will now be delivered to Congress, which will take up the issue in December.

From the get-go on Tuesday, things did not look good for a major change to the Act which has governed the height of DC buildings for over a century.

Shortly after a presentation on the proposed changes, NCPC commissioner Peter May introduced an amendment to strike the recommendation that would allow for taller buildings outside L’Enfant City. Ultimately, the NCPC voted to change the recommendation, reverting back to language from an earlier version of the draft that does not specify if changes should be made, but simply recommends further study.

“It is about equality. It is about human scale,” May said, regarding the reason for the amendment. “It is about having a welcoming city, not an imposing city.”

May had a crowd of supporters in the room, as the majority of people who offered public testimony spoke out against changes to the Height Act. Joining those voices was Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who earlier in the day introduced a resolution opposing any changes to the act. (The resolution was signed by all councilmembers, except for Marion Barry.)

“This is a monumental city,” Mendelson said. “We can’t undo whatever change we make today.”

Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning spoke out in favor of maintaining the ED’s recommendations, noting how fleeting this opportunity may be for DC.

“We are the only citizens in the free world in a capital city that doesn’t have representation in Congress,” Tregoning said. “We have been given precious few opportunities to claw back any of our autonomy. This is a rare occasion.”

Tregoning further reiterated that the dismissed recommendation, which would put the decision to raise the heights of buildings in the hands of the DC Council, the NCPC and the Zoning Commission, was a chance at something closer to home rule.

“What I don’t understand is why we would leave it to Congressmen, who are all too often indifferent,” stressed Tregoning. “Would Congress care if long-term residents couldn’t afford to live in the District anymore? I don’t think they would care, but we care, and we can decide to do something about it.”

The NCPC did vote to recommended that the Act be amended to allow for human occupancy in penthouses that are currently limited to the housing of mechanical equipment.

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ncpc_submits_height_act_recs_to_congress/7841


  1. Adam Lewis said at 2:59 pm on Wednesday November 20, 2013:
    I fully endorsed the staff recommendation from the NCPC. Allowing certain areas outside the L'Enfant City to eventually, perhaps, grow somewhat taller as part of a 5-year comprehensive review process that requires the approval of the DC Council, NCPC, and the Zoning Commission (with ultimate review by Congress) is probably the most conservative change you could make to the Height Act. It would have left things exactly where they are for now but would have given the city a modicum of flexibility to perhaps make future changes without having to go begging to Congress on our hands and knees.
  1. David said at 8:54 pm on Wednesday November 20, 2013:
    I'm happy with the outcome of no heght increase. Just looking at the photo heading to this article, reminded me of why I didn't want to see all these "tall" buildings popping up.
  1. Elizabeth said at 9:58 pm on Wednesday November 20, 2013:
    Hooray. Reason and aesthetics prevail. The ability to see the sky is what makes Washington so beautiful.
  1. Zesty said at 11:06 pm on Wednesday November 20, 2013:
    Just image the top photo with skyscrapers shooting out in the background....in the words of Charles Barkley, "terrible!"
  1. Anon said at 3:16 pm on Thursday November 21, 2013:
    Thank goodness!! This is a great decision by the NCPC. In 30 years or so the DC govt will have matured to the point that it can be trusted with more authority to zone taller buildings selectively outside of L'Enfant, but not now. Those of us who live in DC can be grateful that the Feds are still able to save DC from its own govt. I'm all in favor of the "home rule" that Tregoning desires, eventually, but DC is not ready yet. Plus, keeping the height limits for the next few decades will spur the development happening in all the transitional areas of the city, which is just amazing and is putting DC on possibly the best trajectory for improvement of any large american city. Once DC is well and truly built out, then we can talk about 30 storey buildings.
  1. Ed said at 3:14 pm on Friday November 22, 2013:
    All of the area in the picture would have been exempted, people, so most of your comments are meaningless. This seems like a very short-sighted decision

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