Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: many ways to be greater

Better architecture through zoning: New York's Zoning Act of 1919 directly begat the "iconic ziggurat" style prewar skyscrapers. That law required a specific envelope to preserve light and air, and those shapes, it turns out, maximize the buildable square footage. Too bad they later replaced that zoning rule with a basic Floor Area Ratio one that encouraged boxes flanked by empty plazas (ergo, Sixth Avenue).


The maximal building under New York's 1919 zoning. From Edge of the West.

Raise the Maryland gas tax? It'd be a great way to fill Maryland's yawning transportation budget chasm, especially with gas prices so low. And it just might be possible, with a little political will. A letter writer from North Potomac explains some of the side benefits.

3 minutes greater: The Examiner featured Greater Greater Washington in its Three-Minute Interview yesterday. It mostly focused on the Metro petition.

Elect our AG: Phil Mendelson introduced a bill to make the AG an elected position. The measure would ensure greater independence from the AG, and also move misdemeanor prosecution to the AG's office instead of the U.S. Attorney. If it passes the Council, Congress would have to pass a corresponding bill.

No representation, no taxation? Rep. Louie Gohmert plans to introduce a bill exempting DC residents from paying federal income tax. After all, if there's no taxation, then it's not taxation without representation. (Puerto Ricans don't pay federal income tax either). Norton, of course, really wants the vote, not the tax exemption. If this were a real choice instead of a publicity stunt, I wonder where DC residents would come down on the question?

And: Tom Toles illustrates Metro's good inaugural work; DC Metrocentric critiques a particularly bad blank wall downtown; and the Montgomery County Council backs the light rail Purple Line, concurring with the Planning Board and County Executive's recommendations.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

Add a comment »

Assuming we all support the idea of self-determination, is there any worry that the electorate of the District of Columbia - which elected convicted crack user Marion Barry as Mayor - might elect a similar scoundrel as Attorney General?

by Worried in Washington on Jan 28, 2009 10:28 am • linkreport

I'm all for the tax exemption. Provided DC's taxes increased to compensate (and prevent the "Monaco on the Potomac" problem). Practically speaking, a vote in congress is a vote for Norton, and I doubt I agree with her more than 50% of the time. I'm better off with money in my pocket than a representative who doesn't necessarily represent my views. (Besides the compromise on the table now deprives us of a vote in the Senate, which we ought to get too.)

by Steve on Jan 28, 2009 10:31 am • linkreport

Washington should become part of Maryland because it is part of Maryland. As for allowing skyscrapers, the low sky line spiked with monuments is as atractive a cityscape as exists for American cities and is one of the reasons DC is so livable. It would realy be a shame if we lost that.

by Thayer-D on Jan 28, 2009 10:34 am • linkreport

Assuming we all support the idea of self-determination, is there any worry that the electorate of the District of Columbia - which elected convicted crack user Marion Barry as Mayor - might elect a similar scoundrel as Attorney General?



True, that's always a hazard of democracy. For one thing, maybe we could get someone in the position who's a bona fide resident of the District, unlike the incumbent. An elected AG is certainly better than having the Mayor's personal attorney in the position, to wit: Great Falls resident Peter Nickles, long time friend of Fenty, and the lawyer who got Fenty out of various "difficulties" during Fenty's time as an attorney in private practice. I don't understand why DC can't have a general counsel in the Executive Office of the Mayor (representing the narrow interests of the Mayor) and an independent AG (representing the at-large interests of DC and its residents).

by Paul on Jan 28, 2009 10:55 am • linkreport

"Assuming we all support the idea of self-determination, is there any worry that the electorate of the District of Columbia - which elected convicted crack user Marion Barry as Mayor - might elect a similar scoundrel as Attorney General?"

What about an elected state governor who barred citizens from attending a state university? Or one who used prostitutes? Or one who embezzeled? Or one who wanted to sell a Senate seat? Or one who

[Tell me when I should stop]

by Jazzy on Jan 28, 2009 11:20 am • linkreport

Perhaps multiply our Federal income taxes by our relative representation: with no representatives, we pay 0%, with a voting House member, we pay 33%, with two Senators and a house member, 100%.

If DC residents all of a sudden didn't have to pay federal income taxes, would rich people move here in droves? Several fiscal analyses of DC have concluded that DC needs more people who pay more in taxes than they consume. Would the fact that DC residents don't pay federal taxes make us ineligible for federally funded programs? Could DC's status as a tax haven attract enough wealthy non-Democrats to make general elections competitive, and perhaps even competitive enough so that partisan opposition to full statehood would melt away?

by thm on Jan 28, 2009 11:30 am • linkreport

Wealthy non-Democrats don't want to live in DC. In their current Conventional Wisdom, cities represent all evil. They prefer the supposedly more "natural" environs of exurbia.

by Cavan on Jan 28, 2009 11:54 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D

don't you think the height restriction has anything to do with pricing out low and middle income people from homeownership in parts of the city? Certainly raising it (not eliminating it altogether) would do a lot to increase density, lower rental rates (thus attracting more businesses to invest in the city as opposed to the burbs) and help to reduce dependence on the vehicle.

Second, I think the height restriction forces developers to maximize square footage in downtown office projects. This leads to bland, boxy architecture. Developers constantly asking archtects and engineers to flatten out features, push up against the sidewalk, eliminate outdoor congregation areas, etc.

sidenote: has anyone seen the rendering of Washington, DC, in "The Animatrix?" Apparently, the height restriction will be lifted sometime around 2150 regardless of our concerns!

by JTS on Jan 28, 2009 12:32 pm • linkreport

Hell, if Crazy Louie Gohmert's idea ever came to fruition, every millionaire in America would buy a tiny condo in our town and never use it.

Just like my old Congressman from Pennsylvania had a legal residence in a loft above a garage behind a home in Pittsburgh - while he and his family actually lived in Georgetown - millionaires would find places to set up legal residences most everywhere in DC.

It would be the best thing that ever happened to DC. And Congress would never let anything that good ever happen to the last colonly.

by Mike Silverstein on Jan 28, 2009 12:37 pm • linkreport

Would that really be good? On the one hand, we'd have a lot of residents to collect local taxes from. On the other hand, our real estate values would go up, but that would hurt housing affordability. (European pied-a-terres contributed to skyrocketing Manhattan real estate). And these millionaires, taking up some housing space, wouldn't be around to shop at local stores.

by David Alpert on Jan 28, 2009 12:46 pm • linkreport

Great thought experiment: what if EVERYONE could waive their right to vote in national elections in exchange for not paying income taxes? I suspect the answer is "total social meltdown," which is why it's a great thought experiment. :)

by tom veil on Jan 28, 2009 12:47 pm • linkreport

i don't know about the AG stuff. i'd like AGs to be a bit more like the GAO -- about as independent as we can get.

good to see the talk about sunlight!

by Peter on Jan 28, 2009 12:56 pm • linkreport

@ JTS

"don't you think the height restriction has anything to do with pricing out low and middle income people from homeownership in parts of the city?"

- No way. That's conspiratorial. It's a straight forward way of keeping the symbolic "reading" of the city clear in a city that was designed to read that way.

"Certainly raising it (not eliminating it altogether) would do a lot to increase density, lower rental rates (thus attracting more businesses to invest in the city as opposed to the burbs) and help to reduce dependence on the vehicle.

- There is so much open and underdeveloped land in the city that allthough a big fan of density, I don't see it. Anyway, you streach the limit now, who's to say the same argument won't be made again in 50 years. Unlike human evolution, I see a limit to building height 'evolution" in terms of ultimatley de-humanizing cities.

"Second, I think the height restriction forces developers to maximize square footage in downtown office projects. This leads to bland, boxy architecture. Developers constantly asking archtects and engineers to flatten out features, push up against the sidewalk, eliminate outdoor congregation areas, etc."

- If you look at the pre-WWII blocks of Manhattan in SOHO, Midtown (sidestreets), etc. this dosen't bear out. I good architect can create a lot of (light) play with-in the confines of a 1-2 foot plane. Some of the boxiness you (and I) decry is a result of the glass-box as avant-guard schtick modernists got away with for years. That has been changing over the last 15 years regardless of style.

by Thayer-D on Jan 28, 2009 1:11 pm • linkreport

It's an economic thing, not a conspiracy. an unintended consequence of the restriction, but a consequence nonetheless. Certainly for business.

Agree with you on the large swaths of undeveloped land, but as for height as a factor in the de-humanization of cities, mabye. A de-centralized population is a bigger dehumanizer, to me at least, and there is certainly a correlation between the two.

by JTS on Jan 28, 2009 1:40 pm • linkreport

I'd like to see a transfer of development rights system in place for DC. Designate a few receiving zones where additional height (above the limit) would be acceptable - Poplar Point comes to mind, as does NoMA and other areas outside or near the edge of the L'Enfant City.

Designate downtown as a sending zone - allowing downtown landowners to use the value of their land while relieving development pressure without sacrificing the character of DC's low-rise built form.

The end result would be something where Poplar Point has high rises, but it's really no different in relation to the L'Enfant City as Rosslyn is to DC. Combine that with some transit upgrades to serve those new areas, and we're good to go.

by Alex B. on Jan 28, 2009 2:07 pm • linkreport

I know it's a bit arbitrary, but the maximum height load bearing buildings where built seems to be a good yard stick which is coincidentally around DC's height limit of 12-14 stories. This was established in the late 19th century with the Monadnock building in Chicago (John Wellborn Root).

Something about letting nature set our limits.

I just don't think living that high in the sky "works" psycologically for kids. I have no proof, just a gut feeling. Something about being reduced to the size of an ant when you're trying to build your self esteem up.

Agreed that a de-centralized population center can be alienating but it's not an either or proposition.

by Thayer-D on Jan 28, 2009 2:27 pm • linkreport

Alex B: It appears as though you are not familiar with the DC zoning regulations.

I would also add, however, that for transferable development rights to work well, you need receiving areas which are attractive to developers and where the zoning envelope is legally limited to a level far less than optimal, or where you do not care if the zoning envelope might be expanded to far beyond what the area can sustain. It also makes planning meaningless and eliminates much design review.

Nonetheless, it is attractive to special interest groups who stand to gain from the benefits that earn the transferable development rights, and who are not concerned with the impact on the receiving zones.

by JR on Jan 28, 2009 2:29 pm • linkreport

tom veil is on to your answer. Just about everyone would give up their right to vote if they could skip paying taxes - isn't that at the heart of the Tragedy of the Commons and isn't that what government is supposed to take care of? So yeah, I'd give up any hope of Congressional representation for my tax money back.

But...y'know that would be followed up, by Rep Gohmert, with a law denying D.C. the money the District gets. I believe if I'm correct the District gets more federal revenue than District citizens pay in taxes. So we'd still lose.

But assuming that we didn't lose federal revenue it would be a sweet deal. Especially since, and this is not a popular fact, DC does have representation. There are three branches of government last I counted, and we get to vote for one of them. And that one appoints members of a second one. Even being generous and saying the Senate has half a say on the Supreme Court (and would you rather nominate or confirm?) that means we have 50% representation (1.5 branches). A house seat would only get us to 66.6% representation. In fact, per capita, DC residents still have more say - due to our overweight impact on Presidential elections - than large states like California.

On a related note, I'm not a big fan of this fix which isn't really a fix at all. Retrocession is better because it gives DC residents full representation. But even that isn't perfect because despite what Mike Silverstein says, we aren't the last colony. There's Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Other than PR, will any of those ever become states. I hope the DC representation bill gets overturned so that we can get a real solution to the problem of second class citizens.

Here's what I'd propose. A constitutional amendment that allows Congress to designate an area not within a state but within the United Staes a U.S. Represented Territory. Each USRT would have one congressperson and one presidential elector. All USRT's combined would share 2 Senators. Only one USRT can be smaller than the smallest state. We would end up with three USRTs. One for DC. One for Puerto Rico and one for all the other territories (though VI could be added to PR). That's a real solution.

Sorry for the long comment

by David C on Jan 28, 2009 2:31 pm • linkreport

JR, I am not intimately familiar with DC's zoning code, but perhaps you could explain your comment further, as to why you think I'm off base.

My hypothetical case would involve Poplar Point zoned with the same height/density restrictions as the rest of the city, to be expanded upon with the transfer of rights from within downtown.

You'll also note I called for improved transit connections at the area, which would indeed make it more attractive to developers.

Regardless of the mechanism used, I think it would be appropriate to designate some areas of the city of taller and more dense development, allowing the release of some of that development pressure and corresponding high lease rates / housing prices.

by Alex B. on Jan 28, 2009 2:42 pm • linkreport

David A-

One correction: The D.C. Attorney General already prosecutes misdemeanors (and other minor things like traffic violations), the U.S. Attorney prosecutes felonies. And, they don't do a very good job. Budget cuts over the last few years have caused a 34% decline in new felony prosecutions and a 50% decline in resolved felony cases between 2003 and 2007.

by Adam on Jan 28, 2009 2:52 pm • linkreport

Sorry that link to the DC AG is:

http://occ.dc.gov/occ/cwp/view,a,3,q,530960,occNav_GID,1522,occNav,|31705|,.asp

The weird URL requires you to copy and paste, apparently.

by Adam on Jan 28, 2009 2:54 pm • linkreport

Again, make DC part of the geography that immediatley surrounds it, ie: Maryland and we wouldn't need to add another layer of politics to this already bureaucratically balkanized region.

by Thayer-D on Jan 28, 2009 3:48 pm • linkreport



The Founder’s principles of full suffrage were clearly laid out by George Mason in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, June, 1776:

“6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people in assembly ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community have the right of suffrage and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their own consent or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the public good. ”

Those rights of suffrage are timeless, indestructible, INALIENABLE; ie, innate, inherent, intrinsic. They cannot be bought, sold, taken away, or traded, whether for a bowl of pottage or for freedom from taxes. At most, they may go unrecognized or disrespected…that is what has been happening for the last 200-plus years with regard to DC.

[Please note also, that Senator Steny Hoyer, representing the people of the state of Maryland, made absolutely no effort, to my knowledge, to advance the idea of retrocession of DC to Maryland].

As in the Declaratory Act of 1766, the District Clause is an unwarranted attempt by a national legislature to exert and arrogate to itself absolute power “in all cases whatsoever” [in both instances] over an unrepresented minority of the nation.

Whether or not the Founders knew, realized, or intended that result, under the bedrock fundamental principles on which this nation was founded, they “had, hath, and of right ought to have” no such power.

The District clause is as bad a piece of work as was the three-fifths rule, and it’s time that was recognized.

“[Congress], with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.”

Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, Number One December 23, 1776 (Paraphrased slightly)

Literalism when it serves a purpose…

“All MEN are created equal.” Therefore non-white “sub-men”, women, and youths (none of them “men”), being not “created” equal, need not be “treated equal(ly).”

“State" when it serves the purpose of the author, but “not a state” when it doesn’t serve the purpose.

Convenient!

by citizenw on Jan 28, 2009 4:48 pm • linkreport

@DavidC: You said:

"Here's what I'd propose. A constitutional amendment that allows Congress to designate an area not within a state but within the United Staes a U.S. Represented Territory. Each USRT would have one congressperson and one presidential elector. All USRT's combined would share 2 Senators. Only one USRT can be smaller than the smallest state. We would end up with three USRTs. One for DC. One for Puerto Rico and one for all the other territories (though VI could be added to PR). That's a real solution."

"Sorry for the long comment."

First, no need to apologize. It was a good, productive comment. And a good, potentially productive suggestion/solution (as long as all the territories paid equivalent Federal taxes and bore all the other rights and responsibilites of equal citizenship).

Thanks!

by citizenw on Jan 28, 2009 4:58 pm • linkreport

Thayer D-

Retrocession may have further problems. The constitutionality of the Virginia retrocession was never determined by the courts. However, a larger problem would be the Twenty-third Amendment which contemplates "The District" as a unique political entity meant to have a resident population. There's no way we can just ignore that and retrocede the District without a Constitutional amendment.

by Adam on Jan 28, 2009 5:09 pm • linkreport

Alex B.: Your proposal was to include transferable development rights in the DC Zoning Code, as though the regulations did not already include TDR. Before making proposals about what should be in the DC Zoning Code, I suggest that you go to the Office of Zoning website and read the regulations you are commenting on.

Since the remainder of your comment is really jumbled, other than improved transit, I can't figure out what you are recommending, TDRs? map amendments? PUDs? and SAP? But it does seem that your analysis of the economic impact is overly simplistic, based on an assumption, among others, that square footage is fungible, and your conclusions unlikely to be realized in any non-trivial sense -- if at all -- from the types of changes you seem to be suggesting.

by JR on Jan 28, 2009 5:10 pm • linkreport

Retrocesion is like the metric system, getting rid of the penny or the two-state solution. They're all technically good, but politically difficult.

As for the territories I agree that their citizens should carry the same general burdens as other Americans; but, since poverty is more pervasive in some of the territories, I'm not sure how much taxing them will help. I honestly don't know enough about their taxes, needs etc...but many U.S. citizens pay no income taxes and are still allowed to vote. I guess what I'm saying is I could see a need to treat one or all of them differently, as we do Alaska, and would hate to tie Congress' hands on it.

by David C on Jan 28, 2009 5:15 pm • linkreport

Adam, Good point about the 23rd Amendment. If you shrink the District to the Mall, Capitol and White House, what happens to our three Electors?

by David C on Jan 28, 2009 5:20 pm • linkreport

How about ammending the constitution then? They're concern over local influence on the Federal gorernment is as outdated as the idea that average citizens having the right to machineguns in their homes or for that matter Women and minorities having no voting rights. There's no difference between Montgomery Chevy Chase and DC Chevy Chase except...

services.

by Thayer-D on Jan 29, 2009 7:32 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or