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Congressman Issa Announces Height Act Study to Begin Next Month

by Prince Of Petworth November 8, 2012 at 11:45 am 61 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user mosley.brian

From a press release:

Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), joined by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a member of the committee, today announced the first-ever congressionally requested study of the Height Act of 1910, which Issa and Norton requested at a July hearing. In a letter in October, Chairman Issa requested that the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and the District of Columbia government conduct a joint study on whether the limitations on building heights in the District enacted by Congress in 1910 continue to serve the interests of the federal and District governments. The study, which is slated to begin in December and conclude by September 2013, will examine alternative building heights throughout the city, while ensuring that the horizontality and prominence of the city’s monumental core are preserved.

“Congress has a clear and appropriate interest in preserving both historic characteristics of our nation’s capital and ensuring that longstanding rules and regulations still pass the test of common sense,” said Chairman Issa. “As time has elapsed and opportunities for economic growth in our nation’s capital continue to present themselves, this study will help Congress and local leaders evaluate the case for expanding existing boundaries for vertical growth.”

“The committee’s hearing on the Height Act has opened an entirely new way to see our city and its possibilities,” Norton said. “However, our committee wisely decided that the first study since the Height Act was passed in 1910 is necessary. This study is just the beginning of what will be a complete public process examining the economic and aesthetic consequences of changing a law that has stood for more than 100 years.”

The study will include a number of opportunities for public participation and public meetings.

  • monkeyrotica

    Seriously doubt this gets anywhere so long as the Committee of 100 Dildos continues to soil themselves in rage over their precious “sightlines.” I’d like to know how many of these clowns actually live IN DC?


    • Anonymous

      do we only count the opinions of people that actually live IN DC? interesting notion there monkey.

      • saf

        We should. Our city. Not their city.

        • Anonymous

          or monkey’s.

          • saf

            Nope. Not his either.

      • Anonymous

        Is it ‘interesting’ that the people who live in a jurisdiction would get to decide its policies? Thought that was ‘democracy’

  • Anonymous

    IMHO, I hope they do away with the height restriction. However, buildings higher than the current limit should be confined to one area of the city. I think H Street/NoMa area is a great place. There is already tons of construction in that area, there’s still a fair amount of room to build, and it’s far enough away from the Capitol that it won’t detract from its magnificence. We need tall buildings -> DC is not Paris -> DC is geographically small -> we need the space.

    • No, enough building is going on near Noma, and that’s still pretty close to the capitol (less than a mile away).

    • jcm

      DC is actually significantly larger than Paris. We have 68 sq mi, Paris has 40 sq mi. Meanwhile, DC has 617K residents, Paris has 2.235M residents.

      • Anonymous

        dc is also historically and culturally far less significant than paris.

        • Anonymous

          That is simply not true.

    • Paris also has a huge office building complex just outside of the city, La Defense. It isn’t an ideal situation there either.

  • Anonymous

    The height restriction does not need to change. Not yet, at least. The land in and around downtown isn’t even close to being maxed out yet.

    I don’t think we have to worry about such changes happening anytime soon. Organizations such as the National Capital Planning Commission and the aforementioned Committee of 100 are incredibly powerful, for better or worse.

    • Anonymous

      And even if the restriction is lifted, don’t expect downtown DC to turn into midtown Manhattan overnight. DC might not be Paris, but it sure as hell isn’t Manhattan, either.

    • There are only two parcels of undeveloped or underdeveloped space left in the area defined as “Downtown.”

      • Anonymous

        it’s not a matter of what is defined as downtown. thats irrelevant. there are still many properties in dc that can be built up. mount vernon square, near ne, shaw, all areas that will spread our downtown outwards creating more and more vibrancy on the streets.

  • bb

    I just love the use of the word “horizontality”. There’s a use for that in a pick-up line, probably.

    • Anonymous

      I was going to comment on that word, you beat me to it!

      Horizontality. Really.

    • Anonymous

      hey baby, why dont you come back to my place and we can make a study on horizontality

  • That Man A.

    imo it should stay the same

    like someone else said, the city is nowhere near maxed out right now

    no need to go up

    personally im sure yaul would not see extreme benifits from it
    the “big dogs” with the big money are the ones who will benifit

  • pcat

    The height restriction is what makes DC such a great place to live. Hopefully, this is just another waste of congressional investigation time.

    • Anonymous

      The Height Act drives up the cost of housing. If you think people forking over half their paycheck to make rent makes DC a great city, then we have different definitions of great.

      • DJ

        Please clarify how this is different than NYC, where high-rises abound and people also fork over half their paycheck.

        • Other Anonymous

          NY is multiple times larger — around eight million residents versus 700,000. Rents are obviously 20-30% higher than in DC, but not nearly as high as they would be if DC’s rents were proportional. You could think of this as getting way more “city”, culture, things to do, etc for a given dollar of rent in NY than we do here in DC.

          All for changing the height limit.

  • bll

    Examining how to increase the number of mixed use buildings would be more benficial than re-evaluating the height act.

  • Tell Issa to shove it. That guy is a lying, arrogant nitwit that needs to go back from where he came. To borrow from his source of wealth (car alarms – his voice is the one that says “Step away from this car”), Mr. Issa step away from this issue.

  • We need a serious education campaign around this issue, because most people who are opposed to the issue clearly don’t actually know anything about what they’re actually opposing.

    Two key points:

    1) In the bulk of the city, the height limits of 110′ or 130′ depending on street width (or 160′ on a small portion of Pennsylvania Avenue) would NOT change. What would change is how that last 10′ of height could be used. Right now, it’s not allowed to be used for anything other than mechanical space; the changes would allow live/work/retail in those spaces in addition to the mechanical bits.

    2) Where the height limits would actually be raised is either Chevy Chase (where local opposition would actually make it difficult to get things built) and deep Southeast Washington, where taller buildings could be used to drive redevelopment of woefully underused areas. Most other areas (like NE DC) wouldn’t see a change due to other issues, like the high concentrations of single family homes and much narrower streets. And even if the height limit were raised out in these areas, it would only be raised enough to match typical heights of neighboring buildings in Maryland (i.e., 25 stories).

    • Anonymous

      Your post was informative, thanks.

    • Anonymous

      Eminent Domain

    • Anon X

      “We need a serious education campaign”

      except all you’re offering is misinformation. What you describe is just one proposal. The fact is, what you’re saying might or might not happen in a revamp of the height act.

      Once you open up the bill, there’s nothing keeping it from being completely changed to allow sky scrapers in Columbia Heights or Capitol Hill.

      No one would seriously object to putting tall buildings far outside the city’s core. But thats just one proposal and it may not even be an earnest offering from those who are the most interested. Once the topic is broached, what is going to keep the mayor and issa and others from just incrementally moving the chains in the favor of developers?

      We havent used the space wisely that we have, lifting the height limit would just allow wastes of space like the home depot mall to stay around for eternity and a few buildings on K Street and downtown could be turned into much higher buildings just adding to the congestion of the public infrastructure in a very small portion of the city.

      It makes no sense. We can make better use of things under the current framework without making huge changes that will completely upset the way things work now (which more or less work very well).

      This is a solution in search of a problem and its being driven by developers who will make a ton of cash on a few projects and then duck out after they make their money.

      If we had maxed out our building situation, it would be one thing, but the only thing that will ever encourage further denisification outside of core areas and efficiency is the height act.

      Sure, you want to build some big buildings up GA Avenue near Silver Spring and in Eastover… who cares? But under different changes (that honestly seem far more likely) those are the exact areas that will be left to rot because there will be no incentive anymore for anyone to invest in them.

      • Former Dem

        ah, right. forcing social agenda through regulation. if this one doesn’t work, we’ll try some more. THAT will get GA redeveloped.

  • Anonymous

    What is it thought to do to property value – increase the value because more density brings more economic development, or decrease the value because more density decreases the demand for housing?

    • Anonymous

      The value of the house goes up because of the shrinking single family stock that comes with more density. However, the rent goes down because of the increased supply of multi-family/rental housing. Do away with the height limit, it is beyond dumb!

      • Anonymous

        not necessarily dumb. slow growth is best. the dc economy doesn’t always go up. and we will be having some major cuts soon to the fed budget. this will drastically decrease demand. there always needs to be fewer units that the demand can handle if people are going to stay solvent.

  • 13streetFan

    One questions, why is Rep.Darrell Issa R-Calif., interested in DC height issue? Answers follow the money, I strongly suspect Issa has his own interest in mind and not the people of DC. Watch out for this man, not one to be trusted.

    • jpk

      Leaving aside the issue of what his real motivations are – he’s the chair of the House Oversight + Gov Reform Committee which is what has jurisidiction over this matter

      • He was also brought in by Mayor Gray, who has proposed the limited height limit increase. One of Gray’s beliefs (which I think is correct) is that if you could go taller in certain places–particular east of the Anacostia–you could also rejuvenate those areas. Southeast DC is certainly not booming like the rest of the city.

  • Sir Douchy

    IRONY!! Congressman Issa’s home is in Vista, California.

    • petwurf

      Well, he is, ummm . . well, a congressman from California.

      • Sir Douchy

        Hmm, I think you missed the ironic part of the irony. The irony comes from “Vista” not “California”. Vista is a city in California, but it also refers to a scenic view. Since the Congressman wishes to do away with the nice view we currently have in DC he is, in effect, eliminating our DC vista. Therefore the irony is that a guy who lives in a place called Vista wishes to dispense with the vista in DC.

  • Well, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. The low slung buildings are what give th city its character. A change might make people move away and or never live here to begin with. (I live here but would not live in highrise Bethesda or Vuhginny, for example). Everyone of my visitors comments on how great the city feels without oppresive buildings. Keep it that way it is.

    • Yes, because cities like New York have some much trouble getting people to live in and visit their city. The height limit basically chooses aesthetics and parking over people. PEOPLE are what make a city great, not sight lines. #Humanist

      • Anonymous

        poor comparison.

        • Great argument.

          • Anonymous

            hahaha. touche. still, you can’t think that the same things draw people to new york or to dc? it’s not a valid comparison. new yorks competitive advantage is it’s size, it’s density, it’s age, it’s industry, it’s diversity, it’s vibrancy. DC’s competitive advantage is its quaintness. we can’t compete with nyc against it’s strengths.

      • There are different kinds of cities. If you want to make DC into a city with tall buildings, you will make it a different kind of city, like New York. It currently is not like New York and many people like it for that reason. And short buildings make this a better city for people than concrete canyons like NYC and Philly. If you prefer a city like that, well then there they are. What are you waiting for?

        • If you prefer the suburbs, well then there they are (everywhere).

          • Anonymous

            now you’re just not making sense.

          • But because DC is suburban-esque, all the tall buildings are now in Bethsaida, Rossyln, and other purlieus. Our suburbs are lofty and our city is suburban. Haven’t you noticed and don’t you just love that? When I cross into Bethsaida I feel I enter Manhattan, whereas a ride home into DC feels like a glide into Westchester County and I say keep it that way.

    • Keep what the way it is? My post not five above yours explained what the height limit argument is all about. Nobody is talking about building downtown highrises. In fact, nobody is even talking about changing the maximum height of downtown buildings–just how that height could be used.

      • Why don’t we let the market decide how tall buildings should be.

        • I thought cities were about people (see my critics). Or is this proposition, as I suspected all along, about making more money for property owners?

          • What is wrong with making money building apartments and offices? IMO that is a pretty noble way to make a living. Developers are people to. More apartments and offices = a larger tax base.

  • If you think the city would turn into Manhattan if we did away with the height limit, you are suppressing A HELL OF A LOT OF DEMAND. Everyone person who does not live or work in a city, lives and works somewhere else.

    • Well, real estate people, like everyone else, need to remember the adage that if your only tool is a hammer all the world looks like a nail. Real estate is a greed like any other. Not sure I would want to turn Washington into a skyscraper town to satisfy that. I mean, we already have casinos on our frontier. What next? Why not big blinking neon signs for Marlboro cigarettes in Dupont Circle?

  • THE OFFICES AND APARTMENTS/HOUSES NEED TO BE BUILT SOMEWHERE! Why not in a place where there are jobs and other benefits?

    • Nothing wrong with building apartments, old boy, just not in skyscraper format.

      • What is wrong with the skyscraper format.. because it doesn’t fit your taste?

        • DC has always been a lowslung city. If our established character can be sold offf so easily, Spence, then I say why no plow under the monuments and build a line of ranchises down the Mall. Turn the Smithsonian into a multiplex. Let’s make a buck.

  • I am more concerned about our depth restriction. If I want to build a level 25 subbasement, who is the King of the Molepeople to stop me? It’s my stygian catacomb after all.

    • Loving the wording “stygian catacomb.”



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