WASHINGTON -- An announcement made Thursday by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, could lead the way toward the nation's capital allowing taller buildings.
The congressman announced that he and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) are asking the National Capital Planning Commission to study the possibility of making changes to the D.C. Height Act, the law which has helped maintain Washington's very horizontal and monumental cityscape.
According to Issa's office, the study, which will begin in December and end next September, would explore raising height limits outside of the federal core. In a letter to Mayor Vince Gray in October, he wrote: "The Committee encourages the exploration of the strategic changes to the law in those areas outside the L'Enfant City that support local economic development goals while taking into account federal interests, compatibility to the surrounding neighborhoods, national security concerns, input from local residents, and other related factors."
The idea of making changes to the Height Act has often been considered taboo in city recognized for its relatively low-rise profile. But as the nation's capital becomes more crowded, there's been more thought paid to the possibility of changing the Height Act to allow taller structures in certain areas of the city.
Issa has previously indicated he's interested in loosening the restrictions.
According to Roll Call, which reported on an Issa hearing in July:
Issa suggested it should be possible allow some buildings to grow taller while still maintaining the unique, low skyline D.C. is famous for, with all its monuments and historic structures.
In business areas, building heights are mostly limited to the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet. There is also a general height limit of 130 feet, extended to 160 feet along parts of Pennsylvania Avenue.
But instead of Congress establishing the blueprint for implementing new Height Act strictures and imposing that on the city, Issa suggested Congress amend the Height Act to give local leaders, in consultation with their constituents, the necessary leeway to give exceptions to the law if they chose to do so.
"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," Issa said in a press release, which notes that the study will include opportunities for public participation.
District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray said in a statement:
"I welcome this collaboration with our federal partners on an important and strategic look at height in this city – the first such look in over 100 years," said Mayor Gray. "The Height Act laid the groundwork for the District’s iconic and globally recognizable skyline. This study will evaluate whether reconsidered and possibly different limits to building heights might affect federal and other interests, preserve the District's characteristic skyline, and continue to give prominence to the views of stately landmarks and monuments that grace the District of Columbia.
This post has been updated to include comments from D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray