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Old Posted Apr 13, 2012, 3:38 PM
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Gray, Issa consider relaxing D.C. building height limits

Gray, Issa consider relaxing D.C. building height limits

April 11, 2012

By Tim Craig

Read More: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/...eBT_story.html

There’s new momentum to relax federal building-height limits in the District, reopening decades-old debates about the look, feel and character of the city as well as whether the restrictions stifle economic growth. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has spoken with U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) in recent weeks about ways Congress could amend height regulations that limit most city buildings to 130 feet.

- “The city is just as concerned, and city leaders and community folks are just as concerned, about not raising the height limits in a way that would adversely affect vista or historic areas,” said Issa, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “The question is, ‘Should a federal prohibition be loosened to allow them to make those decisions in concert with historical groups?’ And my general feeling is, ‘Yes.’ ”

- Issa, Gray and Norton said they primarily envision minor modifications to the height restrictions, perhaps an additional story onto some projects. But even a small change could make District buildings sleeker, raise ceiling heights and provide more opportunity for green space, architects said. Issa said he’s also exploring whether the District should have greater flexibility to consider even taller buildings in areas away from downtown, a change that could one day remake parts of Northeast and Southeast and help the city absorb new residents and businesses.

- While height ceilings in many cities were established in the late 19th or early 20th centuries to respond to the skyscraper, local authorities in other cities have been able to modify or remove them to keep pace with demand and market forces. But in a city where such change would require a unified Congress and a presidential signature, the District’s skyline has been held in check. Contrary to local lore, the District’s height cap was not designed to guarantee that no building towered over the U.S. Capitol. Congress approved the restrictions in 1899 to temper community opposition to the newly built 160-foot Cairo apartment building on Q Street NW.

- The mayor’s stance will likely prompt a backlash from some civic groups and preservationists, who have long sought to protect city views. “We hold these national monuments as a treasure to be viewed and enjoyed and respected by people from all over the world and, for that reason, the current height limitations ought to be maintained. Period,” said William P. Lightfoot, a former D.C. Council member. “One story will block somebody’s view, and that is wrong.”


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