NCPC: No Major Height Act Changes

  • November 20th 2013

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.

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