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This morning, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced symbolic legislation opposing any changes to the Height Act—-including the proposed change that would give the D.C. Council some say on future building heights. All but one of his colleagues signed on as co-introducers of the bill. The lone holdout: Marion Barry.

Now, the Ward 8 councilmember has issued a press release explaining his support for changes to the 1910 federal law that restricts D.C. building heights.

“The District is only 68 miles square, 10 of which are water,” Barry says in the release. “Therefore, in my view, we have to do all that we can to maximize height on the land that we have. I’ve read the District’s Office of Planning’s draft recommendations to amend the Height Act, and I am in total support.”

The Office of Planning’s recommendations would slightly raise allowable heights in the historic L’Enfant City, and would free the city entirely from the Height Act elsewhere in the District, with city leaders able to change height limits through the Comprehensive Plan process, subject to approval from the National Capital Planning Commission and Congress.

The NCPC is currently hearing public testimony on its recommendations, which are similar outside the L’Enfant City but would make no changes within it. However, Peter May, a commissioner representing the National Park Service, has introduced an amendment that would strip out a central provision of the recommendations and remove the possibility for future changes to building heights outside of the L’Enfant City. The fate of that amendment will be decided after the public testimony wraps up.

Regardless of what the NCPC decides, Barry’s stance leaves him in the surprising position of being the only councilmember to support greater D.C. autonomy over its skyline. Tell ’em a thing or two about home rule, Mr. Mayor-for-Life.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery