News & Politics

DC Asks Congress for Some Home Rule Over Its Own Skyline

Despite loud opposition, the District is still trying to get its proposed Height Act changes approved by Congress.

DC Director of Planning Harriet Tregoning. Photograph by Flickr user aueagle2006.

Despite demands for DC city planner Harriet Tregoning’s resignation and blood oaths being sworn to stop changes to the city’s building height restrictions, the District government is submitting its proposed modifications to the 1910 Height Act to Congress, less than two days after the National Capital Planning Commission voted to leave the statute virtually unchanged

Tregoning’s recommendations would allow buildings in DC’s historic downtown core to rise as tall as 1.25 times the width of the streets they face, and would lift building height limits entirely in a few higher-growth pockets throughout the rest of the city. The District’s plan still includes the NCPC as a stakeholder in modifying height limits, it would just shift more of the responsibility for governing the skyline to local authorities than federal overseers.

“This approach shifts more decision-making to local control—especially in areas where the federal interest is less significant—in order to accommodate future population growth while at the same time protecting prominent national monuments, memorials, and the unique character of local neighborhoods,” the DC Office of Planning said in a press release last night.

The plan submitted yesterday by the NCPC keeps the Height Act unchanged aside from allowing occupancy of penthouses and some rewriting of very dated fire safety language. It was sent to Congress after the last in a series of public hearings in which Tregoning’s proposals were trashed by a line-up of historic preservationists and other old-timers, some of whom were not exactly restrained in their love of DC’s squat layout.

But now the matter is now before House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, who requested dueling proposals from the District and the NCPC. Issa’s committee will begin hearings on the Height Act next month. He told Roll Call yesterday that there is a “very good chance” that his committee will settle on a “nuanced position that is between the two that empowers the city to do more, but recognizes that there have to be some controls.”

See also: DC Wants Major Changes to the Height Act

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.