Against my better judgment, on this week’s cover I take a stab at an issue that has cropped up in District development discourse for over a century now. It’s not revolutionary: People who favor judicious growth have proposed amending the Height Act to selectively allow for taller buildings before. I happen to think the best way to do it is by getting rid of the Act entirely, and using zoning to set limits that could add vibrance and beauty to D.C. without destroying the character of neighborhoods that so many find attractive.
One thing I want to make clear: There are lots of ways to encourage density. As Office of Planning director Harriet Tregoning pointed out at a lecture last night on preserving affordable housing, this can also be done through measures like encouraging the construction of accessory dwelling units and the subdivision of rowhouses into condos. Playing with heights is just one way to do it!
I also want to share a resource I used for the story: A history of the Act put together by the House Committee on the District of Columbia in 1976. The National Capital Planning Commission scanned it and sent it over in pieces, so to all the D.C. history wonks out there, Merry Christmas:
1. Introduction: 1792 – 1901
3. Amendments: 1910 – 1926
Finally, obviously none of this matters unless some grassroots movement arises to get Congress to repeal the Act. When Eleanor Holmes Norton has her hands full even trying to get budget autonomy, and the city’s real estate developers are happy to simply build tall in the suburbs, it’s hard to see this happening anytime soon. But I do see it as first as a home rule issue, second as an economic one, and third as a matter of aesthetics. So if you’re a young activist looking for an issue to latch on to, consider this one: It’s got it all!
I’m going to go dodge Committee of 100 brickbats now.