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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
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Height Masterplan Underway



In November 2012, the National Capital Planning Commission and the District of Columbia Office of Planning announced a joint Height Master Plan to explore the impact of strategic changes to the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910.

Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested the study following the committee’s July 19, 2012 hearing on “Changes to the Height Act: Shaping Washington, D.C., For the Future.” As stated in Representative Issa’s October 3, 2012 request letter, the study will explore potential strategic changes to the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910 (The Height Act1) in those areas outside the L’Enfant City2 that support local economic development goals, while taking into account the impact on federal interests, national security concerns, compatibility to surrounding neighborhoods, local residents input and other related factors. NCPC and the District of Columbia were asked to determine the extent to which the Height Act continues to serve the interests of both federal and District governments.

The Study is Guided by Three Core Principles

•Ensure the prominence of federal landmarks and monuments by preserving their views and setting;

•Maintain the horizontality of the monumental city skyline; and

•Minimize negative impacts to nationally significant historic resources, including the L’Enfant Plan.


The Study is Organized into Three Phases


Phase 1: Overview, discussion of study principles and issues shaping federal and local interests, case studies. Public meetings in May 2013.

Phase 2: Planning analysis results and identification of opportunity areas for strategic changes to the Height Act. Public meetings in June 2013.

Phase 3: Draft recommendations. Public hearings in September 2013.


The National Capital Planning Commission will then deliberate and act on the recommendations and transmit final recommendations to Congress.

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
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Discussion Starter #2
Can urbanists learn to love DC's height limit?



Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The Height of Buildings Act, passed by Congress in 1910, prohibits buildings in Washington, D.C. from being more than 20 feet taller than the width of the adjacent street. The resulting low skyline is the city’s most distinctive visual characteristic, and defenders of the Height Act usually focus on the aesthetic benefits it provides, such as more light penetration and a less overwhelming atmosphere than the average American city. In other words, it makes the city feel less like a city.

Of course, those of us who actually like the feeling of being in a city may find this argument unconvincing. So we got to wondering: Can D.C.’s height limit be defended on urbanist grounds? Rather than praise it for the peace and quiet it provides, can city planners argue that it makes the city a more culturally and economically dynamic, well-rounded, energetic place? In other words, does it actually help the city succeed as a city?

As the D.C. Office of Planning and the National Capital Planning Commission study the impact of changing D.C.'s height limit, ElevationDC spoke to two experts on the issue. Ed McMahon is a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute who has championed sustainable development and historic preservation throughout his career and is in favor of maintaining the limit; and David Schleicher, a professor at George Mason University who focuses on election law and local land-use law and is a height limit skeptic.

The height-limit debate brings two urbanist principles, density and a sense of place, into conflict. How would you balance these principles?

David Schleicher (anti-height limit):
Of all places to make the “city needs a character” argument, in Washington it strikes me as the exact wrong question. Washington’s character is a given. We’re a capital city. When you look at the mix of businesses…almost everyone in Washington is here because the government is here. "If you can’t differentiate your city from any other city, you have no competitive advantage in the world today."

Ed McMahon (pro-height limit): I think if you can’t differentiate your city from any other city, you have no competitive advantage in the world today. Washington, D.C. is the only major city in the U.S. that has no major high-rises. The distinctiveness has economic value, and the fact that we’re flourishing right now has something to do with that. We can accommodate enormous density in this city without high-rises.

David, could you respond to that point? D.C. is often compared to a European city because of its low heights and wide avenues, but even if you think the similarities end there, the point remains: Can’t you have low-rise cities that are still dense, interesting, and undeniably urbane?

DS (con):
Is it theoretically possible to have a dense city without tall buildings? Yes. Paris is six times denser than Washington. It is possible, except no American city built after the rise of zoning [New York City passed the country's first comprehensive zoning law, in 1916] can be as dense as a European city. We have a zoning system that gives local governments the power to limit heights of buildings. Do you think it’s even plausible that we could build D.C. to look like Paris? You’re talking about putting six-story buildings throughout all of Georgetown.

[...]
 

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
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Discussion Starter #4
Interesting news, I wonder if this will even go anywhere though. I have my doubts for some reason.
I imagine that back in 1910 the Capital Planning Commission envisioned DC as a European style capital with broad avenues and low building heights. But now that most European capitals have embraced skyscraper districts, The need to conform to some illusory utopian aesthetic no longer seems relevant. And DC is under so much pressure from development. The question is, do people there really want more of those awful midrise Washington boxes along K Street invading every neighborhood because they can't go higher? Or can new office towers absorb the demand more efficiently without wrecking classic views of the Capitol dome and Wash. Monument?
 

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Building heights in DC should be raised to 300' in some parts of the city.
The area along NY Ave, in NE would be a good place to start, as well L'Enfant Plaza in SW would work also. I do not support any areas with close proximity to the Mall.
 

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I imagine that back in 1910 the Capital Planning Commission envisioned DC as a European style capital with broad avenues and low building heights. But now that most European capitals have embraced skyscraper districts, The need to conform to some illusory utopian aesthetic no longer seems relevant. And DC is under so much pressure from development. The question is, do people there really want more of those awful midrise Washington boxes along K Street invading every neighborhood because they can't go higher? Or can new office towers absorb the demand more efficiently without wrecking classic views of the Capitol dome and Wash. Monument?
REASON FOR HEIGHT LIMIT:
In response to the construction of the 164-foot (50-meter) Cairo Hotel in 1894, D.C. Commissioners issued height regulations for buildings in D.C., limiting their height to 90 feet (27 m) for residential and 110 feet (34 m) for business, or to the width of the street in front, whatever was smaller.[3] The original Height of Buildings Act, passed by Congress in 1899, removed the front street restriction, but reaffirmed limiting buildings to 90 feet (27 m) on residential streets and 110 feet (34 m) on business streets. It also made an exception for buildings on business streets 160 feet (49 m) wide, which were permitted to be 130 feet (40 m) tall.[4] The 1899 act was amended in 1910 to add the restriction that the height of any building would be limited to the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet (6.1 m) up to a maximum of 90 feet (27 m) on residential streets, 130 feet (40 m) on commercial streets, and 160 feet (49 m) on a small portion of Pennsylvania Avenue; thus, a building facing a 90-foot (27 m)-wide commercial street could be 110 feet (34 m) tall.
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Yes, we want more of those "awful" midrise Washington boxes invading every neighborhood. Keep the office towers in Virginia!!!!!!!
That's my two cents...
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It would draw a lot of business away from the high rise districts in Virginia and Maryland. I don't think all of the DMV will be happy about this.
 

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It would draw a lot of business away from the high rise districts in Virginia and Maryland. I don't think all of the DMV will be happy about this.
Just think, if there were no height limits in DC, Tysons Corner, Bethesda, Silver Spring and other suburban cities would be an after thought for us here at SSC.
The DC thread might even rival the Baltimore thread...:runaway:
 

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
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Discussion Starter #9
REASON FOR HEIGHT LIMIT:
In response to the construction of the 164-foot (50-meter) Cairo Hotel in 1894, D.C. Commissioners issued height regulations for buildings in D.C., limiting their height to 90 feet (27 m) for residential and 110 feet (34 m) for business, or to the width of the street in front, whatever was smaller.[3] The original Height of Buildings Act, passed by Congress in 1899, removed the front street restriction, but reaffirmed limiting buildings to 90 feet (27 m) on residential streets and 110 feet (34 m) on business streets. It also made an exception for buildings on business streets 160 feet (49 m) wide, which were permitted to be 130 feet (40 m) tall.[4] The 1899 act was amended in 1910 to add the restriction that the height of any building would be limited to the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet (6.1 m) up to a maximum of 90 feet (27 m) on residential streets, 130 feet (40 m) on commercial streets, and 160 feet (49 m) on a small portion of Pennsylvania Avenue; thus, a building facing a 90-foot (27 m)-wide commercial street could be 110 feet (34 m) tall.
[edit]

Yes, we want more of those "awful" midrise Washington boxes invading every neighborhood. Keep the office towers in Virginia!!!!!!!
That's my two cents...
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That's not a reason, that's a description of the code. And seriously, DC'ers want squat office buildings everywhere? :|
 

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That's not a reason, that's a description of the code. And seriously, DC'ers want squat office buildings everywhere? :|
The reason is in the first sentence of the quote. Please read it more closely.

Yes, we do not want to look like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston or any other Southern city.
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The reason is in the first sentence of the quote. Please read it more closely.

Yes, we do not want to look like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston or any other Southern city.
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So you want to look like a museum surrounded by poorly planned sprawl that looks no different than any suburb in the US?
 

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
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Discussion Starter #12
The reason is in the first sentence of the quote. Please read it more closely.

Yes, we do not want to look like Atlanta, Dallas, Houston or any other Southern city.
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What was it about that 164 ft. hotel that they found so objectionable and what was their vision for the look of DC? Is the answer in the first sentence of your quote?
 

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What was it about that 164 ft. hotel that they found so objectionable and what was their vision for the look of DC? Is the answer in the first sentence of your quote?
History

At 12 floors, the Cairo towers above nearby buildings. At its opening in 1894, the building's height caused a tremendous uproar among local residents, who dubbed it "Schneider's Folly" and lobbied Congress to limit the height of residential buildings in the District of Columbia to prevent more "skyscrapers" from being built. The resulting Height of Buildings Act of 1899, and subsequent zoning laws, have restricted the heights of buildings in Washington, D.C..[2]


Cairo Hotel, Washington, DC by rllayman, on Flickr


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Nope, that's Houston...
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Explain to me how Houston is a museum surrounded by sprawl lol. We have a ton of sprawl and bad planning, but there are also MANY denser, more urban areas. If you look at Houston as a whole, it doesn't really look like any other city in the country.
 

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Explain to me how Houston is a museum surrounded by sprawl lol. We have a ton of sprawl and bad planning, but there are also MANY denser, more urban areas. If you look at Houston as a whole, it doesn't really look like any other city in the country.
That's certainly true, thank God...
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I say keep Washington low. It is a beautiful city. It has a refreshingly controlled aesthetic.

IMO London has become quite ugly. The chief cities of Europe are both financial centers and the centers of government. Let NYC erect the monuments to capitalism. Washington doesn't need that.


The only thing worse than a short box is one at twice the height. Height is for size queens.
 

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I say keep Washington low. It is a beautiful city. It has a refreshingly controlled aesthetic.

IMO London has become quite ugly. The chief cities of Europe are both financial centers and the centers of government. Let NYC erect the monuments to capitalism. Washington doesn't need that.


The only thing worse than a short box is one at twice the height. Height is for size queens.
+10000
 

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The height limit will be altered and probably significantly altered in the future and people will not see what the big deal was.
It depends on when in the future you're talking about. I'd say not significantly in the next twenty years. But, one hundred years from now, who knows or cares???
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