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250 M Street SE is waiting for tenants before getting started. (W.C. Smith)

Matt Yglesias responds to David Alpert‘s analysis of the Gray transition’s weirdly non-transit-oriented economic development report by saying that we can’t start thinking about how to move people in and out of the city until there’s more space for them to work:

Downtown DC is full. There’s basically no land left to build on, and you’re not allowed to build higher. If you make it a more attractive place to locate jobs, no additional jobs will be created because there’s noplace to put the jobs. The improved quality will show up as higher rent for landlords, and our rents are already the highest in the nation. If you relaxed the height limit, the high rents would spur new construction (=jobs) which would lead to lower rent per square foot which would make downtown, DC a more attractive employment destination.

True enough. I’m certainly on record in enough places opposing height restrictions, not least because I think developers should be able to build tall in places where it’s economically advantageous to do so, and the office rent pressure is strongest downtown.

But to say that “there’s noplace left to put jobs” is simplistic. Although many office projects stalled during the recession, they’re starting up again in a big way around the city, from Mount Vernon Square to Anacostia. On the longer term horizon, massive office capacity is planned for McMillan, L’Enfant Plaza, and the Capitol Riverfront. Recent changes in who gets what at Walter Reed—the District may now get all of the Georgia Avenue frontage—has Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning thinking about “more ambitious uses” like a “major employment center.” The list goes on. So yes, rents are high, but jobs are still coming, and there’s plenty of space to put them—in places that could really use the lift.

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