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New Heights for D.C. Buildings?

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Congress and D.C. officials are beginning a new study to decide whether to change a limitation on how tall a building can be in the District. Tom Sherwood takes a look at plan to change a law that has been in effect since the 1890s.

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One of the unique things about the nation's capital is the absence of high-rise buildings, but buildings in the city could soon be reaching new heights.

Congress and the District are beginning a study to decide whether to change a limitation on how tall a building can be in the District.

The height of the Cairo residential building built in the 1890s stunned Congress and local officials, who imposed a height restriction in the city and passed a law in 1910 that still limits city buildings to about 10 stories.

Now, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who oversees D.C. affairs, is asking the District and the federal National Capital Planning Commission to help decide if taller buildings could be constructed in the city to improve business and help raise city revenue.

At a surprise birthday party Thursday for Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Council member Jack Evans -- the head of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee -- welcomed the new review, but with caution.

“What I'd want to avoid is a crystal city type of situation where you have these monolithic buildings and at night they're dead and they turn in to vast canyons,” Evans said.

Evans suggested industrial sections of New York Avenue or Anacostia could be prime spaces -- but away from residential neighborhoods.

Congressman Issa and Council member Evans both stressed that residential neighborhoods and the city's extensive monumental core would be protected from larger buildings that would change the character of the city.

“If you built a 20-story building, which is going to impact on the air, light, things of that nature, would that have a detrimental effect on your quality of life, and hence you wouldn't build it,” Evans said. “If people do not support the idea, then I wouldn't support it either.”

The study is expected to take a year.

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