Council Examines Building Heights
Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 13:11
Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) voiced strong opposition at a D.C. Council public hearing last week to amending an act that would increase building heights allowed in the District.
The proposed changes are largely being sought to alleviate the city’s increasing growth and would directly impact the Heights of Buildings Act of 1910.
The suggested amendments would allow buildings to be constructed using a ratio of 1:1.25 for street width to building height, according to the proposal’s project manager Tanya Stern. The proposal would affect streets in the L’Enfant City, which only stretches roughly from the Potomac Parkway to Florida Avenue NW and down to the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.
Currently, the citywide Height Act determines building height limit as the width of the street plus 20 feet, with an overall cap of 130 feet on commercial streets, except for a part of Pennsylvania Avenue, and 90 feet on residential streets.
The proposal has been met with strong opposition from citizens who fear losing the city’s historic skyline.
“I support keeping things just the way they are,” Evans said to The Hoya. “Everybody I talk to is against it.”
Stern, who is the chief of staff at the D.C. Office of Planning, said that she expected such dissent.
“We anticipated that there would be some opposition, but we have also heard support for the District’s draft recommendations from other organizations and residents,” she said. “We have engaged in a vigorous public process with the National Capital Planning Commission since the spring.”
As part of its proposal, the DCOP conducted a modeling study this past summer that imagined the impact of taller buildings in different areas of the city.
The study identified areas of potential growth, determined by the density of building and land development, according to Stern. Historic low-density neighborhoods, such as Georgetown, were not considered.
The DCOP’s proposal also commits to protecting the sightline of nationally significant structures, such as the U.S. Capitol Building and the Washington Monument.
The National Capital Planning Commission and the DCOP will continue to develop their final recommendations, and commissioners will vote on the proposed changes Nov. 19.
However, because the current height act is a federal law, it can only be modified by Congress.
If Congress approves the increased heights, decisions to give permits for taller buildings would then be left to the District government and local residents.
“The bottom line for the District in making these draft recommendations is that we feel the District should have the ability, working with our residents, to determine when, where and how to have taller building heights in the city,” Stern said.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the proposed amendment to the Heights of Buildings Act as allowing a 1.25:1 ratio for street width to building height. The ratio is 1:1.25. The article also incorrectly identified population density as a measure of potential growth in the city. The density under consideration refers to building and land development.