The Equity Factor

It’s About Time for Tall Buildings in Washington, D.C.

Officials in Washington, D.C. want to end the city’s suffocating height restrictions.

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Washington, D.C. lawmakers are ready to get high.

After the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) examined the antiquated Height of Buildings Act of 1910, which mandates a height limit for buildings throughout the District, the commission came back two weeks ago and said, “Nah. Everything’s cool. Our city is tall enough.”

Mayor Vincent Gray’s office disagrees. Under the 1899 law, no residential buildings in D.C. can reach above 90 feet, and commercial buildings are capped at 130 feet. The D.C. Office of Planning recommends changing the ratio to allow a maximum height of 200 feet for buildings on a 160-foot street.

But as Washington City Paper notes, that’s only within historic L’Enfant City. Outside of that downtown area, the office recommends lifting the height limit altogether and allowing the District to set its own restrictions.

This is important for a city that needs more density in areas with good access to transit. In areas zoned for medium and high-density development, ditching the height limit would create roughly 37 million square feet of new space, according to the Washington Business Journal. That extra room could help supply catch up with demand, which in turn could mean cheaper housing and office space for everyone.

“The District’s draft recommendations for changing the federal Height of Buildings Act will enable the city to create a supply of developable space to accommodate future growth and avoid upward price pressures on existing supply that could push out the very residents the District needs,” the report says.

Now D.C. and the NCPC will either have to play nice and find middle ground, or go to Congress with two drastically different plans. My vote goes to the latter. The District’s height law is counterintuitive. Officials shouldn’t just ease it. They should abolish it.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Bill Bradley is a writer and reporter living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Deadspin, GQ, and Vanity Fair, among others.

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Tags: affordable housingwashington dcequity factorinclusionary zoningvincent gray

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