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D.C. Height Act Hearing Raises Lots of Questions

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D.C. Height Act Hearing Raises Lots of Questions

Contrary to popular belief, the Washington Monument has no bearing on the height of D.C. buildings.

D.C. Office of Planning head Harriet Tregoning poked a hole in the sanctity of the city's 1910 Height Act today.

In D.C. -- contrary to popular opinion -- building height is not contingent on the height of the Washington Monument, but rather the height of a building is tied to the width of the street it's on.

And "this relationship between the width of streets and the height of buildings is an important one," Tregoning said. "But let me underscore that there is nothing sacred about the particular numbers (the width of the street plus 10 feet for residential streets, and plus 20 feet for commercial streets); rather that the notion of a relationship and a relatively low and human scale is the key."

Today's Height Act hearing before the House Oversight committee was one of the first serious attempts to reconsider the law limiting the height of buildings in the city to 130 feet (about 10 stories). Witnesses included Tregoning, D.C.'s CFO Natwar Gandhi, Marcel Acosta of the National Capital Planning Commission, Roger Lewis of the Univeristy of Maryland School of Architecture, Christopher Collins of the D.C. Building Industry Association, and Laura Richards of the Committee of 100.

Tregoning testified in favor of a limited change to the law: An amendment would allow for more roof pop-ups that residents could use for recreation or office space. Gandhi argued that taller buildings would support greater density which would bolster the District's tax base.

Other proposals floated are similarly limited -- like "surgical" zoning for taller buildings away from the downtown area, such as on the Anacostia waterfront.

It's unlikely any decision will be made before the election -- at least according to committee chair Darrell Issa -- but one thing's for sure: Downtown D.C. isn't going to be seeing skyscrapers anytime soon.

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