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Aerial shot of National Mall
Aerial shot of National Mall

For more than a century, building heights in Washington, D.C. have been subject to the Height of Buildings Act of 1910, which limits them to 130 feet, or about 12 stories.

As reported in The Washington Post, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has spoken with Rep. Darrell Issa and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton recently about relaxing the federal requirement and proposing to raise that limit.

Norton had this to say to The Georgetown Dish:

“Washington’s distinctive look depends upon maintaining the Height Act.  There is such a common understanding of its importance to our identity as a city that no proposals to change the heights of buildings have been presented.

However,  Chairman Darrell Issa has raised with the Mayor and me the question of adjustments to the act outside of the monumental core of the city.  This idea has profound home rule implications as well. The Mayor, city council, city planners, economic experts, and residents will want to take a careful look at this question and its complicated implications.”

Easing the restrictions would allow commercial real estate developers to accommodate the city’s growing needs.

On the other side of the debate, preservationists have long cherished unobstructed views of national landmarks.

Let us know what you think.

0 Comments For This Article

John Boffa

I am not convinced this is just an issue of maintaining historic views. I also believe the height limits are a matter of security. In short, tall buildings obstruct views and the ability to watch over the city. They also increase the possibility of a sniper attack. So, I think security experts will want to weigh in on this question, along with historic preservation experts and real estate developers.

B, Meyer

In selected neighborhoods I would welcome the architectural style, higher ceilings, more units for all socio-economic groups to be a part of DC!
I know that some areas need preservation for their character. Lets not be against this change when there is a place for it. I would live in one, for sure. Just like I would along the lake in Chicago, the ocean in Miami, to name a few. I do not see it in Georgetown, we have that in Rossyln for our choice. And some of those units and amenities are appealing. Its about choice and options and an urban vibe in areas that would benefit from the choice. I personally would live there if the prices allowed, the access to a walking lifestyle would be present. New choices, new architecture, new full service buildings, brings a tax base lost to the burbs.
As one DC resident, with concerns for the cost of affordable retirement while still living in DC, I see great possibilities for active seniors, singles, and maybe some units big enough for professionals that have to leave when they have families. Thoughtful growth is not bad growth.

a reader

From blocks away, the taller the building, the greater the impact. How about considering more 130 foot buildings, only adding restriction that buildings not go straight up, but that they have upper story set backs, like in downtown Bethesda. That seems to work, and a lot more sun and light is preserved. Only a thought.

Bill Brown, AOI of DC

When the Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of D.C. encouraged the Commission on Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission to commemorate the centennial of the Building Height Act in 2010, they co-sponsored a panel of experts discussing the pros and cons of loosening the District's height restrictions. In his presentation entitled "The Equation of Height and Density in the Form and Economy of
Washington, D.C. in the 21st Century,” keynote speaker Larry Beasley warned in his conclusion, "...I close with a cautionary note. Be very careful as you gamble with the 100-year legacy of Washington’s Height Act. Take care not to open things up to [sic.] casually. I dare say, those height limits may be the single most powerful thing that has made this city so amazingly fulfilling."

The AOI of DC, the city's oldest civic organization founded Dec. 7, 1865, has taken a position opposing changes to the Building Height Act as we believe any change will be a slippery slope which, over time, will continue to be re-/misinterpreted, twisted, modified... all in the name of economic development and to the detriment of neighborhoods, parks, open space and livability. We also believe, as we have stated regarding the issue of over-head streetcar wires, that what is "good of the old city, should be good for the whole city" and not disproportionately impact the neighborhood and residents east of the Anacostia or outlaying areas near Metro rail stations.

We hope this discussion continues (as it was in today's [4/20/12] "Post") but that the ultimate outcome will be: leave well enough alone!

Bill Brown, President
Association of the Oldest Inhabitants of D.C.

James Canning

Keep the hight limit! Allowing taller buildings would be an astounding blunder.