Demonstrating more than a passing interest in the impact of D.C.’s height limits, Rep. Darrell Issa made an unannounced appearance at a panel last night on the seemingly esoteric subject of building heights in European capitals.

The panel, hosted by the National Capital Planning Commission at the National Archives, invited three European urbanists to discuss the strategies behind building heights in London, Berlin, Hamburg, Dublin, and Rotterdam. About halfway in, the Republican congressman from California, who chairs the committee with oversight over the District, made a quiet entrance and listened with apparent interest to the discussion, until he was invited by moderator Gary Hack to address the audience.

Issa took the remote control for the PowerPoint presentation and returned to an earlier slide depicting the London skyline (which Issa mistakenly referred to as a Dutch skyline). “Our roofline doesn’t even look this good,” he said.

Together with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Issa commissioned a review of the District’s Height Act in November, to be jointly conducted by the D.C. government and NCPC. His brief comments highlighted the need for a reassessment of the regulations that have led to D.C.’s squat skyline.

“You see a set of regulations that created a ground-level look that’s one way and a rooftop look that’s another way and is not optimal,” Issa said.

Apparently taking the panelists’ points about flexible approaches to city planning to heart, Issa said, “It’s not about how high you go, it’s about how well you go high.”

Echoing proposals he’s made in the past two years for greater D.C. autonomy that have suddenly made Issa seem like the District’s unlikely best friend in Congress—-and reiterating his obvious fondness for the city in which he resides—-Issa said, “Whatever we do in Congress, all we want to do is create a framework where the city can oversee the best use of the federal city and the greatest city on earth.”

Issa concluded his remarks by emphasizing the long-term implications of the upcoming decisions on D.C.’s height limits. “I don’t expect to be here for a long time,” he said, “but I expect this city to be here for centuries.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery