Tall Buildings Beyond the Core: DC Releases Height Act Recommendations

by Shilpi Paul

Tall Buildings Beyond the Core: DC Releases Height Act Recommendations: Figure 1

Might we see a taller DC after all?

After analyzing visual models and the economic impact of altering the city’s Height Act, DC’s Office of Planning (OP) released a draft of their recommendations Tuesday, complete with several bold conclusions: the height limit should be raised within L’Enfant City, and eliminated beyond it.

Specifically, the recommendation is for the area outside of L’Enfant city (beyond Florida Avenue) to be released from the height limit completely and left to the discretion of the city and Zoning Commission, and the rules within L’Enfant altered slightly. Currently, building heights in DC are capped at a 1:1 plus 20 feet ratio in comparison to city streets; the OP is proposing increasing that ratio, within L’Enfant City, to 1:1.25, which would bring maximum heights up to 200 feet along the city’s widest boulevards. Additionally, viewsheds would be created around the Capitol, White House and Washington Monument to protect the iconic landmarks.

These changes will “allow the federal government and the District of Columbia to reap the economic, fiscal and social benefits of additional height while preserving the visual preeminence of the Capitol and other national monuments,” states the report.

The OP states that the ability to build upwards will be an economic boon for the city, allowing the District to “compete in the regional market” and build more attractive buildings with taller ceiling heights. They estimate that between $62 million and $115 million in additional annual tax revenues could be generated over the next 20 years from higher-rise office and residential buildings.

Tall Buildings Beyond the Core: DC Releases Height Act Recommendations: Figure 2

They also determined that an increase in heights is necessary to accommodate growth. “In total, the population and job demand through 2040 could require between 157 million and 317 million square feet,” states the report. “Under current zoning we have less than a 30 year supply of development capacity.” If DC fills up under current Height Act limitations, the report warns, it “risks becoming a city of primarily wealthy residents and investors.”

For the past several months, the National Capitol Planning Commission and DC’s Office of Planning have been studying the potential impacts of changing the Height Act. NCPC released their somewhat minor recommendations earlier this month; the OP’s recommendations foresee a vastly different District. The two agencies had slightly different lenses: NCPC was tasked with determining the federal interest, while the OP was more concerned with local interest.

On Wednesday evening, the NCPC and OP will be holding a public information session to discuss the two reports. They will welcome feedback over the next month as they put together their final report for Congress.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/tall_buildings_beyond_the_core_dc_releases_height_act_recommendation/7605


  1. Ed said at 4:35 pm on Wednesday September 25, 2013:
    Can you give us the boundaries of what's considered L'Enfant City?
  1. Jeffrey Yorke said at 6:52 pm on Wednesday September 25, 2013:
    Ditto on the L'Enfant City boundaries. Also, OP is an it, not a "their." You are writing about an office, not a person.
  1. The Editors said at 8:06 pm on Wednesday September 25, 2013:
    Ed/Jeffrey, The approximate boundaries for L'Enfant City are the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers to the south and Florida Avenue to the north. Here is the mapped area: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/L%27Enfant_plan.jpg The Editors
  1. hoos30 said at 8:46 pm on Wednesday September 25, 2013:
    Shocking that they put out a plan that I'm 100% in agreement with. Can't wait to watch it get whittled down to nothing.
  1. Tom in Michigan Park said at 12:01 am on Thursday September 26, 2013:
    Allow me to echo hoos30's reaction. Presuming that the monumental core and viewsheds are protected, eliminating the height limit elsewhere could be the strongest economic development initiative this city has ever undertaken, particularly in outlying neighborhood commercial districts. Alas, the NIMBYs, naysayers and others [part of this comment has been removed due to its inappropriate nature] will bellow and bawl and rant 'til this gets so watered down as to be ineffective.
  1. Dss10 said at 3:46 am on Thursday September 26, 2013:
    Vornado won... Increasing the heights of buildings will only increase the value of the underlying land and will make land and housing more expensive. Perhaps the district should stop focusing on growth and should look at the type of companies and agencies it wants to attract and retain as opposed to speculative development. The commercial vacancy rate has been climbing for the past 4 years and with the upheaval in the legal industry, reductions in the military budgets due to the end of the wars in the Middle East there will be a gradual shift in the economic activity in the district and surrounding areas. Making taller buildings won't bring jobs unless there is a compelling reason beyond cost for a company to either stay in or relocate to the district like making a livable city with high quality jobs. Instead there will be crappy developments, more crowded roads, and a lower quality of live...
  1. david said at 4:53 pm on Tuesday October 1, 2013:
    I don't know. I don't want feel closed in or clustered.

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