This week's hearing on the District's Height Act was very interesting. Here is the list of witnesses who testified:
Harriet Tregoning (District of Columbia Office of Planning)
Natwar M. Gandhi (Chief Financial Officer, District of Columbia)
Marcel C. Acosta (National Capital Planning Commission)
Roger K. Lewis (University of Maryland School of Architecture)
Christopher H. Collins (District of Columbia Building Industry Association
Laura M. Richards (Committee of 100 on the Federal City)
Both Harriet Tregoning and Natwar Gandhi supported the Height Act. Ms. Tregoning noted that there are already some exceptions on PA Ave, which of course is close to both to the Capitol and the White House, where buildings have been granted exceptions to exceed the limits allowed by the Height Act. She advocated for relaxing the Height Act limits around certain metro stations and perhaps along major corridors downtown, such as K Street, which is a very wide street and could benefit from having more residents mixed among all of the office buildings in that part of downtown.
Natwar Gandhi noted the likely significant fiscal benefit to the District of Columbia of relaxing the Height Act. Mr. Gandhi noted that while some parts of DC have extraordinarily wealthy residents, certain parts of DC have some of the poorest Census tracts in the country. Mr. Gandhi noted that more than a third of the District's residents are eligible for Medicaid. He cited the strong population gains the District has enjoyed since the 1990s, including a 2.7% increase in population between 2011 - 2012.
An important point that Mr. Gandhi noted was about how much of the District is off-limits to taxing, since it is either federal, university, churches, embassies, or museum uses. This includes properties in some of the District's most desirable locations right along the Mall. Natwar Gandhi said that forty percent of the property in the District isn't subject to taxes, considerably limiting our tax base.
Roger Lewis provided some places where increased heights make sense, including by certain metro stations, Anacostia, and the Southeast and Southwest waterfronts. Mr. Lewis also noted that relaxing the Height Act to allow for modestly higher buildings would likely improve the quality of architecture in the District. Towards the end of the hearing, Congresswoman Norton (D-DC) really seems to appreciate and support this point, noting for the most part the lack of quality architecture in DC (she noted, and I certainly agree, that the new libraries and some of the modernized schools) are an exception.
Another point that Harriet Tregoning and I think Roger Lewis made is that if the Height Act is relaxed, there are still checks and balances in the planning process both for local residents to have input in this and to protect federal interests (there are federal representatives on the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority). Locally, any taller buildings would still be subject to the District's Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Commission review, local Advisory Neighborhood Commission review, and various other analysis and impact studies.
Representatives Gowdy (R-SC) and Issa (R-CA) both seemed to strongly support relaxing the Height Act and giving the District more control over these local land-use decisions. Representative Norton seemed neutral at first but then came around and seemed to support relaxing or modifying the Act towards the end of the hearing.
The hearing is posted here: http://oversight.house.gov/hearing/c...-the-future-2/
. If you have two hours over the weekend, it is a very interesting discussion to watch. I also encourage people to email both Rep. Norton and Gowdy's office to support relaxing the Height Act.