Can you feel the claustrophobia, D.C.? Can you see the shadows encroaching? Can you sense the Manhattanization of our fair District? Because the Height of Buildings Act of 1910, ruling our skyline for more than a century, has just been amended.
Today, President Barack Obama signed an amendment to the Height Act, following passage in the House of Representatives late last month and in the Senate shortly afterward. But don’t expect skyscrapers to start popping up anytime soon.
The 130-foot maximum for buildings on commercial streets is still intact. So’s the 90-foot limit for buildings on residential streets, and the further restrictions for buildings on narrow streets. The change that became law today is about as minor as possible: Penthouses formerly limited to mechanical functions can now be opened to human uses.
Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House committee with oversight of D.C. issues who’s become a surprisingly staunch ally of District autonomy, has expressed his frustration at the D.C. Council for rejecting a chance at that very autonomy. Last year, the Council passed a near-unanimous resolution objecting to any Height Act changes. That includes changes that would give the Council some say over D.C. building heights in the future, currently governed by Congress.
It also includes the change that became law today. But since the Council has already expressed its desire for these decisions to remain in Congress’ hands, the councilmembers can hardly complain of being overridden. May the era of human-occupied penthouses begin.