The National Capital Planning Commission got its study of potential changes to the Height Act rolling this afternoon with a meeting that laid out the steps ahead before NCPC needs to submit its recommendations to Congress in September.

The study was requested by Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House committee with jurisdiction of D.C. affairs, in November, and will be a joint undertaking of NCPC and the District government.

NCPC’s David Zaidain said there will be three phases to the study:

  • Phase 1: Background research and definition of federal and local interests. This phase includes lessons from other capital cities around the world, for which Zaidain said Tuesday’s panel on European building heights was a “good starting point.” Zaidain said NCPC has hired consultants to help with this phase, and it will be completed by May.
  • Phase 2: Identify geographic and technical areas for strategic changes to the Height Act. Issa’s letter to NCPC encouraged changes outside the “L’Enfant city,” the historic city center south of Florida Avenue NW and west of the Anacostia River. Zaidain said NCPC The D.C. Office of Planning has likewise hired consultants for this phase, to assess modeling, viewshed analysis, and economic feasibility, and that Phase 2 will be completed by June.
  • Phase 3: submission of recommendations to Congress and conclusion of plan. September’s the deadline.

Zaidain said the “core working group” on the study will consist of people from the General Services Administration, Department of Defense, National Park Service, Commission of Fine Arts, and the Architect of the Capitol. The Office of Planning’s Tanya Stern says OP will also be part of the working group.

NCPC chairman Preston Bryant responded to Zaidain’s presentation by saying, “That is a lot of work to do in a relatively short period of time.”

Arrington Dixon, an NCPC mayoral appointee and former D.C. councilmember, called for a focus east of the Anacostia, with “iconic buildings” near Green Line Metro stations. He said the Congress Heights advisory neighborhood commission has expressed reluctance toward taller buildings in the area, but that Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry has been supportive.

Two participants in the meeting suggested that public input from District residents would be insufficient, and that national outreach is necessary given that D.C. is “the nation’s capital.” This idea seems about as logical as letting D.C. residents weigh in on building heights in Duluth, and it runs counter to the principle of greater D.C. autonomy that’s partly responsible for the push to amend the Height Act. It’s also unfeasible: Zaidain said, with a measure of understatement, “It’d be difficult to hold public meetings outside the District,” but noted that he hoped the national press would help solicit input from beyond the Beltway on the height study page on NCPC’s website. Where, by the way, you can leave your feedback.

Update: Stern emails to note that OP, and not NCPC, has hired the consultants for phase 2, and that OP is also part of the core working group. This post has been updated to reflect these facts.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery