After a year of extensive study of the Height Act and public debate over the details of any potential changes, the process to amend the 1910 federal law could start moving very quickly.
Slightly more than a year ago, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) requested a joint study by the National Capital Planning Commission and the D.C. Office of Planning of the Height Act, which limits D.C. building heights to the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet, with a hard cap of 90 feet on residential streets and 130 feet on most commercial ones. The two agencies conducted visual modeling studies, economic analyses, and extensive public meetings to assess what changes to the law might be appropriate. Today, at long last, the NCPC will vote on its final recommendations, which would leave the Height Act largely intact but allow for future revisions with the approval of the D.C. Council, NCPC, and Congress.
And after that, progress could be swift. The House Committee on Oversight and Government reform, which is chaired by Issa and has jurisdiction over D.C. affairs, is likely to hold a hearing in December to examine the NCPC and D.C. recommendations, according to a committee spokesman.
D.C. officials hoping for greater autonomy from Congress on building heights and other issues feel a sense of urgency. Issa, a conservative Republican who has emerged as D.C.’s most powerful ally in Congress, will cease to chair the committee after next year’s midterm elections, due to Republican Party term limits. It’s unlikely that another Republican chairman would take the same initiative Issa has shown on promoting D.C. autonomy. So from the perspective of Washingtonians who’d like to see the Height Act changed, Congress’ speedy action is a welcome development.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery