Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Votes and taxes


Photo by joebeone on Flickr.
Online voter registration?: Tommy Wells wants to allow online voter registration in DC. Today, residents can download forms online, but must print and mail them. Maryland and 11 other states have online registration. (DCist)

Commuter tax for DC gov workers?: Jack Evans proposed a commuter tax which would only apply to newly-hired local government workers who live outside DC. Public employee unions oppose the idea. (Examiner)

Norton skeptical of autonomy referendum: Eleanor Holmes Norton appears cool to the autonomy referendum idea from the DC Council. Would a referendum stymie the effort for DC budget autonomy in Congress? (Post)

Bag fee helps clean up Anacostia: DC's 5¢ bag fee has greatly reduced trash in the Anacostia. The fee has raised far less than expected because more people are eschewing disposable bags. Much trash still comes from Prince George's, which couldn't get state approval for a fee this year, while Montgomery instituted one. (WTOP)

Finish the trail: WABA wants DDOT to complete the Met Branch Trail past Brookland, especially around Fort Totten, but officials say it could be years or more because they're busy and it's hard. Some Silver Spring groups oppose the planned route. (WAMU)

Corcoran interior a landmark?: The DC Preservation League nominated the interior of the Corcoran for historic designation. The interior has some impressive elements, and now until there is a hearing, the Corcoran can't change anything. (City Paper)

DC's offices the fullest in the nation: Washington DC's office vacancy remains the lowest in the US, at 9.5%. Is this a compelling reason to loosen the height restriction and allow office supply to expand? (Housing Complex)

MARC World Series?: If the Nats and Orioles both make it to the World Series, would people call it the MARC Series? Maybe not on weekends, when MARC doesn't run, though ACT asked the MTA to add service on weekends if this happens. (City Paper)

And...: Bike sales in Italy surpassed car sales for the first time since 1945. (Telegraph, charlie) ... The Dupont Metro station's south entrance reopens this month. (Post) ... Temporarily closing LA's Route 405 didn't bring much congestion. (Streetsblog) ... Tricycle-based food trucks will serve ice cream sandwiches. (City Paper)

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Geez...here we go with yet another person at Housing Complex who erroneously thinks the height limitation is somehow hurting DC.

Right now, there is tens of millions of sq/ft of underused FAR already in commercially zoned areas. There is no shortage of buildable space, and if anything the height limitation has forced developers to develop enormous swaths of run down real estate. Instead of being able to build a few 100 story towers on K street, it has forced the gentrification of all of NOMA (for example). Even at current construction rates (which are highly unsustainable) it would be 30 years before all of DC's core commercial space was maxed out under existing zoning and FAR. Why don't we maximize our current assets before giving developers carte blacnhe to simply ignore commercial real estate they would prefer not to use.

by heightlimit on Oct 3, 2012 8:44 am • linkreport

@heightlimit Instead of being able to build a few 100 story towers on K street, it has forced the gentrification of all of NOMA...

I do not disagree with your conceit, just the way it was put. The development of NoMa was not FORCED by the height limitation; rather, due to the height limit restricting tall building in already built-up areas, developers saw an opportunity in NoMa and took advantage of it. They were not forced.

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 9:03 am • linkreport

Just to state the obvious: a tax on DC government workers is economically equivalent to cutting DC government salaries. It chases people out of DC government jobs, and into jobs with other governments and the private sector.

by Tom Veil on Oct 3, 2012 9:08 am • linkreport

If the Nats and Orioles both make it to the World Series, would people call it the MARC Series?
No. They'll continue to call it the same thing they've called it for the past 6 or 7 years.

by selxic on Oct 3, 2012 9:08 am • linkreport

World Series: 100000% chance it will be called the Battle of the Beltways, which is the "official" title of the match up during the regular season. Another question would be, what if the WS is Nats and Yankees? The Accella Series?

by RJ on Oct 3, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

In other news, Vornado is reporting a $60M drop in revenue as contractors move out.

As the vacacy rate is the highest since 1991? Even less of an argument for heigh limits.

by charlie on Oct 3, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

RE: Online Voter Registration
Great idea.

RE: Commuter Tax on DC Gov't Employees
Horrible idea. Is Jack Evans just so gung-ho to tax someone outside the District that he doesn't see how stupid this is? Seems to me that unlike a real commuter tax, DC government employees wouldn't get any sort of deduction on their home state taxes, so you'd just be screwing those people. Not fair.

by MLD on Oct 3, 2012 9:17 am • linkreport

How about just being against the height limit because its dumb? The truest vistas are when you're standing in the street anyway and the marginal difference of a few floors won't change anything about that. This isn't the difference between wonderful light and the oppressive darkness that seems to make Manhattan an awful place.

There are a lot of floors between the 15 or so that are currently allowed and the Burj Khalifa's that everyone thinks will automatically be built once the height limit is removed. Hint, I have friends in Va. that live in buildings taller than the tallest buildings in DC. We'll be alright if we add a few floors.

by drumz on Oct 3, 2012 9:21 am • linkreport

@charlie
As the vacacy rate is the highest since 1991?

Where'd you find this? It's not in the article.

by MLD on Oct 3, 2012 9:26 am • linkreport

OK, except that's talking about the entire metro area, so using that to say "see height limits are fine, plenty of office space" doesn't work. We don't know that the rate in DC itself is the lowest since 1991.

Housing Complex says the DC vacancy rate is 9.5%. Bloomberg says the metro area rate is 14.7%.

by MLD on Oct 3, 2012 9:35 am • linkreport

@slexic: Impossible?

by David F-H on Oct 3, 2012 9:35 am • linkreport

Of all the articles on the Corcoran interior nomination - you pick up that hack job of a story from the City Paper to link to? Terrible.

by Julie on Oct 3, 2012 9:50 am • linkreport

@goldfish - they arent forced to choose NoMa in particular, thats true, but force is involved - were a developer to exceed the height limit, they would face govt sanction - im not sure what the sanction would be, a fine? a lien on the property? At some point, if they didnt pay the fine, if they refused to part with the property, they would be arrested and put in jail. Considering how casually people speak of being "forced into transit" or "forced into high density" these days, its odd that when actual force is involved, we shrink from referring to it.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 9:56 am • linkreport

"Instead of being able to build a few 100 story towers on K street, it has forced the gentrification of all of NOMA"

This is a weak straw man argument. Nobody is proposing allowing 100 story towers. Advocates of raising the limit only call for a modest increase from the ridiculously low limit we currently have.

The existence of development in Noma is not evidence that the height restrictions are wise. All it demonstrates is that there is more demand than the CBD can satisfy. Pushing that demand around rather than trying to satisfy more of it doesn't necessarily produce the best outcome.

I am convinced that if the height limit had been set at, say, 25 stories the same people claiming the current limit is ideal would be claiming that 25 stories is ideal. Of course there probably would still be people calling for an even higher limit, but at least there is a logical case to be made that more density almost always produces more benefits than costs. Those defending the limit always fall back into a mushy non-logical argument with nonsense phrases like the "human scale" of buildings, etc. In reality, it's more about a fear of change and that's why they'll defend the limit no matter how arbitrarily it's set.

by TM on Oct 3, 2012 10:02 am • linkreport

@ AWalkeretc:its odd that when actual force is involved

Really? What force? The derivative of impulse over time? Acceleration times mass? Or perhaps the same "force" that forces me not to kill people, fill out my tax forms, and drive on the right side of the road? The "force" that forces builders to not randomly build in a park, and install smoke detectors?

by Jasper on Oct 3, 2012 10:03 am • linkreport

@MLD; since the best argument I've seen for abolishing the heigh limit is "Well, Rosslyn, Crystal City, Alexandria and Bethesda" are doing it looking at regional vacancy rates -- and realizing that despite the DC area being a respite in a storm commercial real estate is not strong -is a useful exercise.

I know, that somehow the height limit people think that this is what is preventing us from becoming Vancounver. Well, that, maybe $100B in overseas China money and a flourishing drug trade.

by charlie on Oct 3, 2012 10:05 am • linkreport

@AWitC: the building permits would be denied. If those were violated, the property owner would be denied the certificate of occupancy. If these were violated the city could take possession and close the building. No fines, just lack of revenue for the owner (which leads directly to bankruptcy).

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 10:08 am • linkreport

TM: The point of that post wasn't to fear-monger about 100 story towers, it was to point out that the city benefits from having office development happen in a lot of different places, instead of all clustered in a small area around K Street.

by Dan Malouff on Oct 3, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

The point of that post wasn't to fear-monger about 100 story towers, it was to point out that the city benefits from having office development happen in a lot of different places, instead of all clustered in a small area around K Street.

Which would still happen without the height limit.

by Alex B. on Oct 3, 2012 10:22 am • linkreport

RE: Commuter Tax on DC Gov't Employees

Could some of that revenue generated be used to provide subsidized housing for DC gov't employees IN the district? How much better would our city be if our firefighters, police and teachers were all actually our neighbors, too. Sounds pretty awesome to me.

by MDE on Oct 3, 2012 10:33 am • linkreport

Plus, ok maybe NOMA developed in part because of the height limit. We're still talking about the future. It's not as if we allow buildings near Farragut to get taller then the new buildings in NOMA will empty out.

by drumz on Oct 3, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

@goldfish - and what if the owner stands in the doorway and refuses to let the city take possession? Do they leave him be on his property - or do they remove him by physical force?

@jasper

"Or perhaps the same "force" that forces me not to kill people, fill out my tax forms, and drive on the right side of the road?"

yes, that force, govt sanction backed by the police power of the state. Which some people imply is used to "force" people to submit to an "Agenda 21" but in this case is in fact used to limit core density.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

@RJ, the Battle of the Beltways is a likely nickname for a Nats-O's series. As for Nats-Yankees, the NEC or Amtrak series are more suitable than an "Acela" series. When sport teams charter an Amtrak train on the NEC, they get trains made up of Amfleet cars and maybe the 9800 conference car. I think Acelas are rarely chartered.

Amtrak marketing has apparently been quite successful in the past several years in getting the sport teams traveling between DC, Baltimore, Philly, NYC to take Amtrak charter trains over buses or flying. The Amtrak monthly reports show a large increase in passengers for NEC Special Trains (aka charters) with a tidy profit to show for them.

Nats vs Texas Rangers? With the Rangers having once been the Senators, should be some possibilities there for a nick name. Of course, the Nats have to reach the Series and the baseball playoffs can be a crap shoot.

by AlanF on Oct 3, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

@charlie

If someone is suggesting waiting 2 to 3 years to see how the fed budget settles out, what happens to crystal city, and if Tysons and Reston ever recover before actually BUILDING say a 30 story building on K street, thats pretty reasonable IMO. OTOH things dont happen that fast around here. It seems quite reasonable to start LOOKING at paths toward buildout, where outside the CBD (both in the district, elsewhere in the core, and elsewhere in the metro area) examine the limitations of those places in terms of current and planned transit access compared to the CBD, and then to sketch out reasonable changes in the height limit to start the discussion.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

nats vs yankees

battle of the overpriced real estate markets

yuppie series. gentrication series.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

"where outside the CBD office development is being pushed"

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

@AWitC: what if the owner stands in the doorway and refuses to let the city take possession? Do they leave him be on his property - or do they remove him by physical force?

Obviously taking possession will requires force. Like an eviction, the armed sheriff shows up with a number of deputies, and takes over. It isn't pretty, but no fines or jail is involved, unless there is an assault. Only the very dumbest property owner gets physical; by that point she (or he) has lost the battle.

(I wonder -- this should be clear enough to you; why are pursuing this?)

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 11:06 am • linkreport

Because when height limits get brought up there is always someone who says "why do you want to force people into tall buildings" or "force DC to turn into Manhattan" without acknowledging that the height limit also forces certain types of development as well.

by drumz on Oct 3, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

Google didn't seem to help. Are there plans to cover the north entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro station?

by NikolasM on Oct 3, 2012 11:25 am • linkreport

NikolasM: You mean to build something in the space above the station? Not that I am aware of. It has been floated in the neighborhood that maybe there could be a development on the WMATA property and the PNC parking lot in exchange for the developer decking Connecticut Avenue to create a new park that the farmers market can use, but I don't know if the bank is interested or if a project there would make enough money to do the deck.

by David Alpert on Oct 3, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

No, just a canopy. Like the south entrance has. Keep the rain and snow off the escalators.

by NikolasM on Oct 3, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

@goldfish

what drumz said. you were quibbling over "forcing office development to NoMa" which is simply using an expression, much as people say "forcing me to live in a hirise" or "forcing me to give up my car" In this case the literal use of force (the sheriffs evicting the valiant urbanist property owner from over the limit building) is directly related to the metaphorical forcing in a way it often is not in its use by the antis (where its often directed against things like grants for planning, or policy changes that REDUCE the regulatory hand of govt)

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 11:37 am • linkreport

RE: Tax on DC Government employees

This is perfectly avoidable. Don't move outside the District. I like it, and think a local government employee SHOULD live where they work. How the hell are the people who run 311 supposed to understand city issues if the only issue they care about is the traffic on NY Ave back to PG County?

If we are going to maintain this bloated bureaucracy, we may as well keep the money in DC. This seems like a terrific idea to me.

by Kyle-w on Oct 3, 2012 11:40 am • linkreport

@AWitC: this regulation does not force developers to build in NoMa.

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

yes, in the same sense that an urban growth boundary does not "force" developers to build in an an inner city neighborhood.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

urban growth boundary = ?

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

@ Kyle-w:I like it, and think a local government employee SHOULD live where they work.

Every local government, but especially DC's, would come to an immediate halt if it would not hire people from outside it's jurisdiction. Imagine that Falls Church could only hire Fall Church residents. DC, with its undereducated population, would face very similar problems.

Furthermore, such a requirement is quite an infringement on the freedom of employees. There are not a lot of jobs that require residency in a certain place.

by Jasper on Oct 3, 2012 12:01 pm • linkreport

Instead of a tax on DC employees who don't reside in DC how about a bonus for those who do. I guess similar to incentive for housing. The problem with the current DC employee housing incentive is that its restricted to certain locales-it can't be applied in the neighborhood of the employees' choice. Its only an incentive if the neighborhood where it applies is the employee's top choice. Also its only good for mortgage; can't be used for rent. Not a good incentive at all. No freedom of choice.

by Tina on Oct 3, 2012 12:04 pm • linkreport


goldfish

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=what+is+an+urban+growth+boundary

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

DC, with its undereducated population, would face very similar problems.

50% of D.C. residents had at least a four-year college degree in 2006. Probably higher now.

That's compared with 27% of Americans over the age of 25.

by oboe on Oct 3, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

Evans' proposal is a nonstarter, but perhaps is a populist kickoff to his campaign for Mayor.

As for height limits--look at where they don't exist and notice what dead spaces they are, even in lively places like downtown Bethesda (where I was yesterday and the day before) and often pretty ugly as well.

by Rich on Oct 3, 2012 1:25 pm • linkreport

I live closer to the Wilson building than I would in many areas of DC that I'd be able to afford, plus my wife is in school and out of state/private tuition would be prohibitively expensive if I moved to DC just to try and get a job with city government. Granted that's my opportunity cost but its not as good for city services overall if we preference where they live over whether they do a good job or not.

by drumz on Oct 3, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

Falls Church city government? Not a fair comparison at all. If we are trying to get DC residents to have DC jobs, this is a good start. What the heck is the "Freedom of employees?" They can still live whereever they want, they just pay 4% to do so.

Regarding quality of employee... Do people think that we have an absolutely steller staff as is? If we institute this, sure, some people will leave... Either leaving those positions to be eliminated, and the DC govt to tighten up a bit, or creating jobs that DC residents will finally have a shot at.

@Drumz

While I can certainly understand your situation, and the choices you have to make, not really willing to not institute what seems to me to be terrific policy to appease one person.

by Kyle-w on Oct 3, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

@ oboe:50% of D.C. residents had at least a four-year college degree in 2006. Probably higher now.

I believe you. But I also remember a post in the past on GGW mentioning that 1/3 of Washingtonians is functionally illiterate...

@ Kyle-w:What the heck is the "Freedom of employees?" They can still live whereever they want, they just pay 4% to do so.

I don't think I've ever seen an add announcing that salary would depend on residential location, other than when talking about large distances.

by Jasper on Oct 3, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

I don't really care about it personally, but it seems to me the day after we get an article where people describe multiple problems with simply justknowing whether a swimming pool is open we have a city government more concerned with providing employment for residents than they care about providing quality city services.*

*It's not mutually exclusive and its not relevant if DPR staff lives in DC or not but still there is a disconnect that these events are pointing to.

by drumz on Oct 3, 2012 1:57 pm • linkreport

because they're busy and it's hard

awesome. summed it up well.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Oct 3, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

Bag fee success: where are all the comments from all the people who bet their salaries this would never work to reduce trash?

by Tina on Oct 3, 2012 1:59 pm • linkreport

For those complaining that we need to open up DC gov't jobs to DC residents, there is ALREADY a preference for hiring if you are a DC resident.

The problem I have with Evans' proposal is not taxing out of state people, that would be reasonable if applied to other jobs. The problem is the implication that DC gov't employees are the group of people we should be clawing extra tax revenue out of. Presumably this would apply to everyone, including teachers?

Seems foolish to me to disincentivize a large portion of the metro area from working in DC gov't.

Kyle-w: what makes you think this is such a "terrific policy"?

by MLD on Oct 3, 2012 2:17 pm • linkreport

Re: Non-resident tax for DC govt employees

This isn't a bad idea. First off, it's only for NEW employees and doesn't apply to existing employees.

Second, DC resident employees cost DC less money. For every $100 DC pays resident employees, they get back $7-$10 in income, property, and other taxes/fees. So, if hiring residents costs DC less, why not incentivize it? Basically, all this proposed rule would do is level the playing field between residents and non-residents so their wages both have the same net (after tax) cost to the city.

by Falls Church on Oct 3, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

@MLD

Because we are the only state that can't tax out of state employees. We are hamstrung by Congress in this regard. If this is one area where we have the ability to change it, then I certainly feel we should be.

See above, re Falls Church. Are you really arguing that there isn't a new benefit to having more DC residents/DC residents working in DC? This seems like a win-win to me. Either we get the 4%, or we get a new DC resident/another DC resident with a good job.

by Kyle-w on Oct 3, 2012 2:44 pm • linkreport

@ Falls Church:it's only for NEW employees and doesn't apply to existing employees.

How does something become a good idea when it is only applied to new people, and hence introduced very gradually? If it's a good idea, then people should be clamoring for it. The fact that it would be impossible to get this done to existing employees shows that it's a bad idea.

by Jasper on Oct 3, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

The fact it only applies to new employees is important because when you get a new job, there's a reasonable expectation that you may need to move. Or, at the very least, your commute may not be as good or there may be other costs associated with taking a new job.

It would also be unfair to apply the rule to existing employees because that would amount to a pay cut. It's easier for someone to say "I won't take this new job because it doesn't pay enough". Its not fair to force someone into "Shoot! My pay was just cut and now I can't afford my lifestyle so I need to look for a new job or change my lifestyle."

That said, a reasonable compromise would be to waive the rule even for even new employees after they've been working for DC government for more than 5 years.

by Falls Church on Oct 3, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

@MLD

Lets be real. DC govt is never going to get the cream of the crop. There are a few hundred thousand superior federal jobs, and a ton of private jobs that I would take over a DC govt job. Not to mention any Fairfax/Arlington/Moco jobs. DC government is not an appealing job.

With that said, it serves a necessary purpose, and I see no reason why if we are going to have thousands of jobs, we should not incentivise them going to DC residents. I don't even see where the disconnect on this one is coming from..

by Kyle-w on Oct 3, 2012 2:58 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: I am fully capable of of googling something, but thank you for the animated demo -- it was very funny. I inquired about the definition because I needed to know exactly what you meant in your post. I presume the wiki entry is what you intended ...

Or maybe not. Second on the search list google returned was the far "harder" urban growth boundary in Portland Oregon. In that case, "an urban growth boundary does not "force" developers to build in an an inner city neighborhood is clearly false, because ALL development outside the boundary is prohibited. The only choice a developer has is inside the boundary, or in a completely different city.

So I am still wondering what you meant.

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

@ Kyle-w:Because we are the only state that can't tax out of state employees.

That's not true. There are other states that have treaties about that. VA and MD for instance. The difference is that DC does not have these treaties out of its own choice.

by Jasper on Oct 3, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

@Kyle-w Lets be real. DC govt is never going to get the cream of the crop. This is an unnecessary prejudicial negative comment for which there are many examples that contradict it.

by Tina on Oct 3, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

@goldfish

so when the you say the height limit does not force developers to build in NoMa, you mean because they COULD build in Cap Riverfront instead? Clearly as the CBD reaches build out, they can't build anything more in the CBD (unless they want to tear something down and build something new of the same size for sh**s and giggles). In both cases the path of development is "forced"

And of course some UGBs are softer than portlands, and MOST smart growth policies are NOT like UGB's and dont involve banning or even downzoning anything. Yet the rhetoric of "force" is still abundant in opposition.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

@ Falls Church:The fact it only applies to new employees is important because when you get a new job, there's a reasonable expectation that you may need to move.

Why? That's only true when you get a job far away. How would you handle this for instance when you have a married couple, one working for the DC government, and one for the Fairfax County government? And what if you're a contractor and have changing government overlords? What if you get a job in the Wilson building and live in Crystal City? Should you then really move to say, Cleveland Park and live farther from work?

@ Kyle-w:DC govt is never going to get the cream of the crop.
I don't even see where the disconnect on this one is coming from..

^ Right there. ^
You're burdening a difficult with more constraints.

Haven't we had an article about one of the police departments that allowed officers to take home cars, but that became awkward because quite a number of those officers did not lived out-of-jurisdiction?

by Jasper on Oct 3, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

There are some fantastic DC government employees. (There are also some terrible ones, certainly.)

by David Alpert on Oct 3, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: other states that have treaties

Cite?

I thought interstate commerce was regulated by Congress (U.S. Constitution, art. 1 sect 8.)

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

@goldfish
http://www.payroll-taxes.com/articles/175-state-tax-reciprocal-agreements.htm

Lots of states have tax reciprocity agreements.

by MLD on Oct 3, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

Fair. I re-read my comment. The cream of the crop comment was unnecessary, and not true. Certainly, there are terrific DC govt employees, of which I have had the pleasure of dealing with a few. I was not trying to throw any DC employee under the proverbial bus with my comment.

However, I still hold the rest of my point, that DC Government jobs are not the most appealing in the region. If we can incentivise DC government employees to live/play in DC, how is that a negative?

by Kyle-w on Oct 3, 2012 3:29 pm • linkreport

@Kyle-w

The problem is this isn't an incentive - it's a punishment if you choose otherwise.

An incentive would be like the incentives that already exists - one example is the program for DC gov't employees that helps with a first-time home purchase in the district. That is an incentive to move to the District.

by MLD on Oct 3, 2012 3:36 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: As I have pointed out time and again, there is lots of available, buildable land in DC for commercial development -- see this list for what is the pipeline. But these projects do not exhaust the supply, as there vast areas that are still available -- such as Fort Totten, Reservation 13, and the Pepco plant, as well as thousands of smaller infill lots.

Just because one area is restricted does not force a developer to do anything. In fact, teardowns have been the normal way to build things downtown for more than 100 years; there are buildings on K St that are available for this. Some land has remained underused or fallow for decades, and will remain so for decades more. The DC height limit apparently have done nothing to "force" growth in such places.

So NO, the height restriction does not force development to occur outside the Central business district.

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 3:40 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

While local applicants for DC gov jobs wouldn't need to move, folks living farther away may need to. For the local folks, they could weigh the cost (and other factors) of moving to DC with the benefit of avoiding the slightly higher taxes of staying outside of DC.

The point is that someone making a major life change such as getting a new job is more open to the possibility of moving than average. Changing jobs is consistently one of the most common reasons why people move.

by Falls Church on Oct 3, 2012 3:44 pm • linkreport

@MLD -from what I know of that program it has what I consider major limitations as an incentive program. It applies to a very limited geographic area and only for home purchase/mortgage. A true incentive would be more like a bonus or stipend the employee could use toward the housing of his/her choice. Currently it looks to me as much like a investment program for certain neighborhoods as it does a benefit for DC employees, like they tried to do two things with one program and the employee benefit part got under emphasized/took second place to the neighborhood investment part of the plan.

by Tina on Oct 3, 2012 3:46 pm • linkreport

Nats v Orioles? I should hope it would be called "Davey Johnson's revenge."

by Jim T on Oct 3, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

So NO, the height restriction does not force development to occur outside the Central business district.

Ok so the height limit doesn't hinder development or force. Then why have it? Plus isn't easier to just build taller buildings where they are than try and wrangle for any vacant plots that may or may not be suitable for development (Pepco plant in particular is a LONG time before it can be developed).

Aesthetics? Ok, but there are serious costs to this that I think can be argued must be taken into account. Plus the most scenic views are down on the street anyway. I don't see how a marginal increase from 14 or so stories to 20 or so would fundamentally change this. Plus on a local level this means that more and more rowhouse neighborhoods are threatened anyway which people also see as valuable.

Ideology? This is where people say that tall buildings mean that the commercial presence is as important than the governmental function of DC. If that's the case then would statehood be a better option for the non-obviously federally controlled areas of DC (such as the mall, capitol, white house etc.) rather than trying to pretend that if we have shorter buildings then lobbyists don't have as much influence?

by drumz on Oct 3, 2012 3:58 pm • linkreport

goldie

thats a list of Apt buildings, built OUTSIDE the CBD.

Sure theres land OUTSIDE the CBD. There may still be SOME buildable cites within the CBD, though the limited amount of new space that can be built will mean new buildings there command premium rents, and so more buildings will be built outside the CBD than otherwise (IE caused by govt sanction, ergo "forced")

Now that may be a good thing - or it may not be. As I said, one consideration is transit access. NoMa has transit access just about as good as the CBD. Reservation 13, for example does not. Heck, Cap Riverfront which has had significant office growth does not. That will mean a higher auto mode share for commuters to those places, with implications for the region. Whether its worth it anyway, is an open question.

However its still a matter of 'forcing' development into a different pattern that it would go absent govt sanctions, backed up ultimately by "force".

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 4:00 pm • linkreport

Jeez...talk about missing the forest for the trees here folks. I post this morning and find y'all posting all day about NOMA.

It was given as a relevant example, but I could have used the Navy Yard or SW just as easily.

You can't have it both ways. Either height limits "affect" development, or they don't. You can't be supporting a height limit because it fosters additional development, hopefully reduccing costs per sq/ft, but then saying having done doesn't geographically spread out development by the same mechanism.

I know no one is proposing (yet) a 100 story building, but lets use it as an example.

Take an average buildable downtown commerical lot of 50,000 sq/ft. In one scenario you put a 100 story building on it, in the other a more typical 10 story (ok, really 12 but you get the point) dc office midrise.

In one building you get 5 million sq/ft of rentable office space, in the other scenario you get 500 thousand.

So you need to build 10 of those office towers to equal t he same rentable space as in one 100 story tower.

This is the mechanism of "forced" developement.

From 1999 to today, DC has been on fire with commercial realestate. More businesses have moved here, needing space. Instead of being able to focus on the traditional business core of K street, with its central location and multilayers of overlapping transit, that office space was spread out over 3 OR 4 other locations.

Cost was certainly a driver. It is cheaper to build new on lots where nothing, or run down unused buildings sit, but had DC no height limit, the downtown core would have been the focus. The cache, the location, the views, the transportation etc.

by heightlimit on Oct 3, 2012 4:17 pm • linkreport

@MLD

Call it what you will. Either way, you have yet to give an convincing argument against this tax. Governments are able to tax what they don't like, and give incentives to things they like. In this case, they are taxing city employees who live outside the district (in an aside, who are overwhelmingly more likely to drive to work than DC residents)

@Jasper

How many DC government employees live in Crystal City? Either way, yes, I would much prefer that a DC govt job goes to someone in Cleveland Park then one in Crystal City.

@Tina

I agree. We can give a bonus/stipend, which costs us money, or in this case, we can simply tax out of state employees, which somewhat makes up for the fact that we are taking DC tax dollars and depositing them in a bank in MD, to be spent in MD. This seems like a no-brainer. Literally, one of the better policy ideas I have seen in quite some time.

by Kyle-w on Oct 3, 2012 4:28 pm • linkreport

Kyle,

The biggest convincing argument is that folks outside the District won't take these jobs (or in a desperate situation will take it until something better comes along).

When you eliminate VA or MD talent, you are left with what DC has to offer. With 1/3rd of the District population functionally illiterate, you are left with the other ~66%.

Problem is, the unemployment rate in the District among the college educated demo is a whoppingly low 3.3% which means of these folks, those who want work, already have it, and if they want to move to something better, they can...easily.

The only people in the District who are unemployed, are so because they are unemployable. Literacy, education, felony records etc. Are you really saying you would prefer DC to be forced to hire from this demo?

Lets be honest here. The vast majority of DC Government jobs aren't the jobs people are looking for when they say they are moving to DC to work for the Government. They are relatively low paying, thankless crap jobs with little vertical possibilities. That isn't saying good people won't take them, but few will even consider it once you lop off an additional 4% of their salary for tax.

Lastly, all the executive or appointed positions within District Government, the folks who make the most money already have a residency requirement.

Basically, this residency requirement that you seem to love does nothing but drive District government to the lowest common denominator.

by Taxingdc on Oct 3, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

I'd rather DC hire the best person for the job and then work on improving the cityscape and city services that make DC an attractive place for everyone (regardless of their occupation) to live. That seems to be the better win-win.

by drumz on Oct 3, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

DC Height Limits = hot button topic on GGW! My question about the height limit is what would be the effect if the limit were to be increased by 40' (and just 40') outside the monumental core area? Or if the height limit were increased by 40' or 50' in designated zones centered around Metro stations away from the monumental core? I don't think the higher buildings which are still well short of skyscrapers would change the look of DC all that much while allowing increased density.

About the Dupont Circle south entrance work being almost completed. If WMATA re-opens the entrance on schedule, will they be praised more for finishing the project on time or criticized more for having taken 8 months to replace 3 escalators?

by AlanF on Oct 3, 2012 4:52 pm • linkreport

@heightlimit: actually, the argument is over terminology. I think we all agree that height limits, like all zoning regulations, affect development patterns.

My point is that suggesting that such regulations "force" development to occur somewhere is a perversion of what that word means. By analogy, the road network "force" people to take select from a range of possible paths to reach their destination, whereas before there were roads, people could take any dirt path or bushwhack a new trail. Likewise, zoning rules do indeed limit the choices a developer may make, but the structure these rules provide actually enables development that would not otherwise occur, by making an area more livable and desirable. What is motivating the developers is profit and good business, within the rules. This is nothing like "force" as when the cops come knocking with a warrant.

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 5:01 pm • linkreport

The only people in the District who are unemployed, are so because they are unemployable. Literacy, education, felony records etc. Are you really saying you would prefer DC to be forced to hire from this demo?

I just don't buy that 10.1% of our population is unemployable. Sure, these folks are not going to be directors, but I am quite certain there are plenty of 30k a year type jobs, that don't require college degrees etc that these people can certainly fill.

They are relatively low paying, thankless crap jobs with little vertical possibilities.

These are the kinds of jobs our unemployed citizens need. You mentioned it yourself, the educated top 2/3 are having no issues. It is the bottom 1/3 that needs these jobs. These are precisely the low-skilled jobs that are difficult to find, especially in DC.

Do I think that the city can find an unemployed District resident from W7/W8 who can fill a 35k a year janitor job? Absolutely. Should they try? Yes.

What do you propose in the short term to help solve the unemployment crisis we have amount the bottom 1/3 of our city? At least this is something....

by Kyle-w on Oct 3, 2012 5:03 pm • linkreport

"My point is that suggesting that such regulations "force" development to occur somewhere is a perversion of what that word means."

how do you feel about folks who say a higher gas tax is "forcing them to use transit" Or that NOT building as many highways as they want is forcing them out of their cars. or that subsidizing bike share is forcing them to bike. Or that ALLOWING accessory apartments if forcing them to live like sardines in a can.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: I choose my battles. While I may feel that "higher gas tax forces folks to use transit" is not well put, I understand that not everything is worth arguing about. These people are making their own choices; nobody is forcing them.

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 5:37 pm • linkreport

"I understand that not everything is worth arguing about."

then why is "forcing developers to NoMa" worth arguing about?

You let more egregious examples of this very trope go by - AFAICT only because they are "on your side"

I am starting to think this may be an example of Poe's Law.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 3, 2012 5:42 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: my point stands.

by goldfish on Oct 3, 2012 5:53 pm • linkreport

The biggest convincing argument is that folks outside the District won't take these jobs

If DC govt can't find appropriate talent at a given pay level, then they need to increase wages/benefits. DC govt could increase wages an amount equal to the revenue being brought in by the new tax without impacting the budget.

The bottom line is that today, DC pays more for non-resident workers than for residents (net of taxes). That situation makes no sense. DC should spend the same amount on wages (net of taxes) regardless of whether the employee lives in DC or not.

Let's make a simplifying analogy. Let's say you're buying sandwiches. At one shop, for every 9 sandwiches you buy, you get the 10th one free. At another restaurant they have no such deal. Wouldn't you only buy sandwiches from the other restaurant (all other things being equal) if their prices were a little lower?

Similarly, when DC buys talent from within its borders, it gets a discount because those residents hand some of their wages back in taxes. So, shouldn't DC only buy non-resident talent on the same terms?

by Falls Church on Oct 3, 2012 6:29 pm • linkreport

Kyle, you must be relatively new here. The districts atrocious demographics have been discussed adnauseum on GGW. I suggest perusing the archives.

You may not believe 10 percent are unemployable, but it is simple the truth. You may not believe one third of the entire district is functionally illiterate but it is true. You may not believe there are entire wards in town with unemployment rates of 25 percent but it is true. And no, cramming someone who couldn't get a job at McDonald's into a 50k a year dc gov job they can't do is a horrible idea.

And FallsChurch, you couldn't be more wrong. Just like dc pays more for projects because of the CBe program, limiting your talent pool and then having to pay above market prices to attract someone from that talent pool is a waste of time and taxpayer money. Why should we have to pay a meter maid 70k a year when we could pay someone equally qualified from va or md 50k a year?

Bottom line, you want the best. Ali's for your money and that includes hirin the best person for the job, not just some random dc person and paying them a market wage, not some ridiculously inflated above market wage simply because you've decided to artificially limit your talent pool.

by TaxingDc on Oct 3, 2012 6:48 pm • linkreport

I am not new here. I like to think I am very well informed, and feel I have a fairly good high level perspective on the city.

In honor of tonight's coming beat down.. Sorry Mitt, I just don't buy it. Not willing to just write off a large chunk of our population. Yes, there is a large group of people in DC that would have a difficult time ever maintaining steady employment. With that said, I am sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of DC residents who are qualified enough to competently staff low level roles with the DC government. Regarding why that pool is so small, that is obviously a separate issue.

Yes, I would rather pay a DC resident a bit more than a Maryland resident to do the same job. I don't think it takes that though, just a bit more effort to finding DC residents who can do these jobs, and perhaps a bit less incentive for out of state residents.

by Kyle-w on Oct 3, 2012 7:20 pm • linkreport

@ Kyle-w:Do I think that the city can find an unemployed District resident from W7/W8 who can fill a 35k a year janitor job? Absolutely.

Of course they can. They'd also be overpaying as the median (!) janitor in DC makes k$27.

http://swz.salary.com/SalaryWizard/Janitor-Salary-Details-Washington-DC.aspx

Yes, there is a large group of people in DC that would have a difficult time ever maintaining steady employment. With that said, I am sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of DC residents who are qualified enough to competently staff low level roles with the DC government.

Are you Marion Barry? He tried this. Decades ago. It didn't work.

Yes, I would rather pay a DC resident a bit more than a Maryland resident to do the same job.

Sure you would. You already are. DC's minimum wage is $1/h higher than MD's and VA's. Would you also like to pay for the legal fees for the District's loosing case of discrimination? DC has the strictest anti-discrimination law in the country (and probably the world). You can not discriminate on the DNA of applicants, should you can. You certainly can not discriminate on residence.

by Jasper on Oct 3, 2012 8:26 pm • linkreport

limiting your talent pool and then having to pay above market prices to attract someone from that talent pool is a waste of time and taxpayer money. Why should we have to pay a meter maid 70k a year when we could pay someone equally qualified from va or md 50k a year?

That math is totally wrong. Using the correct math, the question is -- why would we pay someone from VA/MD more money (net after taxes) when we could pay someone equally as qualified from DC less? Specifically, here are the numbers:

Cost for DC to employ someone making $50K/year:

Non-resident = $50K
Resident = $50K * (1 - tax rate) = $50K * 0.95 = $47,500

Why would you pay $50K for a non-resident when you can pay $47,500 for a resident? Shouldn't we level the playing field by paying both residents and non-residents $47,500 net after DC taxes? True, the non-resident takes home less than $47,500 because they also have to pay taxes from their state but that's their problem. The cost to DC should be made the same regardless of where their employees live.

by Falls Church on Oct 3, 2012 9:26 pm • linkreport

I still think its just easier and better to have employees who do a good job rather than contribute a specific amount to payroll taxes and some sales tax. Heck having a more effective government might even save everyone some money.

That's not to say residency shouldn't be a factor but I don't think it should be a high priority factor.

by Drumz on Oct 3, 2012 11:21 pm • linkreport

I just don't buy that 10.1% of our population is unemployable. Sure, these folks are not going to be directors, but I am quite certain there are plenty of 30k a year type jobs, that don't require college degrees etc that these people can certainly fill.

The city government is not a jobs program. We had that, years ago, and it resulted in a grossly inefficient structure that drove many people with the ability to move out of the city. Now that the city, and the city government, is turning around, you want to return to start fiddling with the District's ability to attract and hire the most qualified people? No thank you. As Drumz wrote, why not have the focus be on getting the most efficient and effective government possible?

And as numerous others have pointed out, there ALREADY is a preference for DC residents in city hiring. If it's not being implemented properly, then try to fix it. But that many? most? DC employees live outside the city even when that preference is in place suggests to me that it's not so easy to attract qualified DC residents to city jobs as you all think it is.

by dcd on Oct 4, 2012 8:13 am • linkreport

@Falls Church
Your math assumes that giving a DC gov't job to a DC resident is employing an additional person in the District, not taking them away from another job. DC government isn't "paying that person less;" if they live in DC then the government would collect extra tax revenue, IF you assume that that person did not have any income before. Your analysis also doesn't take into account any math involving difficulty in hiring, inability to fill positions, etc. that this could cause. It's a very incomplete analysis.

@Jasper
You certainly can not discriminate on residence.

This is amusing considering that, as I said before, DC government already gives hiring preference to people living in DC.

by MLD on Oct 4, 2012 8:27 am • linkreport

@ MLD:This is amusing considering that, as I said before, DC government already gives hiring preference to people living in DC.

You can give preference all you want. But you can not discriminate. There is a legal difference.

by Jasper on Oct 4, 2012 9:53 am • linkreport

Here's what developers are forced to do. They are forced to build buildings smaller than what they would otherwise build. Now I suppose we could argue about whether or not taking one option from a person, forces them to choose the next best one "I wanted to take the ferry all the way across the river, but when I was thrown overboard I was forced to swim." "No you weren't. You could have chosen to float or drown!" - but I think it's a weird position to take. If a developer wants to maximize profits, then the height limit forces them to build outside the CBD. True, they can choose not to maximize profits, but then you can always choose to drown.

What heigthlimit fails to explain is why building in NoMa is better than building taller in downtown. Is undeveloped land a bad thing. If so, we should lower the height limit to 1 floor and watch every square inch of available land be developed very quickly. Why is having office space spread out, better than having it condensed.

And even if we accept that pushing development to NoMa instead of above existing buildings in the CBD is somehow desirable, what this fails to recognize is that it also pushes development to Crystal City and Rosslynn, which really isn't good for DC.

I see two questions with the height limit.

1. Should we have a height limit?

2. If so, what should it be?

For one, a majority of people probably think we should have one in parts of DC, but making it citywide is perhaps ridiculous. Some parts of DC are very far from where viewsheds make sense. And adding a height limit to property, reduces the value of that property - and that reduces property taxes. How much more revenue would DC get if there were no height limit? Because that's the cost of the program (and what the feds should pay DC as long as they're going to keep the rule on the books).

For question 2, Basing the height limit on what height early 20th century fire fighting technology could reach (which is what it is) is not particularly relevant today, and we need a better line of reasoning than that.

The current height limit is sloppy, illogical and counterproductive. And even if you support them in theory, I don't know how anyone can support this one as is.

by David C on Oct 4, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

@David C: the reason for the height limit is the effect tall buildings have on the neighbors.

by goldfish on Oct 4, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

the reason for the height limit is the effect tall buildings have on the neighbors.

What effect is that? If these effects are so bad, then I'd expect that people don't want to move into buildings next to tall buildings, but that hasn't been my experience.

That was not the initial reason for the limit. The initial reason was fire-fighting. So it would be odd if the height limit that makes sense for early 20th century fire-fighting is the exact same one that will avoid "effects" on neighbors.

by David C on Oct 4, 2012 12:43 pm • linkreport

@David C: in DC, consider the uproar following the construction of the Cairo. The objection to height was mostly based on esthetics. In the case of the Cairo (164 ft tall), the building was 4-5 times the height of the those next to it.

by goldfish on Oct 4, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

Ok, so neighbors may not like a taller building. Why have a law making it so?

Moreover, in Downtown DC where the buildings are already tall as you're going to get in DC (more or less) and mainly commercial why are we pointing out that building a tall building pissed some people off a long time ago in a context not really comparable to this one.

by drumz on Oct 4, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

@drumz: your questions try my patience. But (sigh) to carry on: Imagine you own a 3-storey building, and next to you a 15-storey building was just built. Because your property recently has been overshadowed, it is less desirable, for esthetic reasons -- looks count. Now imagine you need to sell it -- presto, your property just decreased in value.

The only way to recover that value is to tear down your building and build something taller. Clearly this is not easily done, and requires a substantial investment.

That is the basis behind ALL zoning, because the way one owner uses her property affects the value of her neighbor.

by goldfish on Oct 4, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

Goldie

I would not object to limits on building 15 story buildings in areas where the predominant form is 3 story buildings (except where a strong case can be made for upzoning)(and note, FAR limits will tend to limit height in those areas anyway). What we are talking about is (I think) a modest increase in the height limit in commercial areas, in areas where most blocks are already built out at the current height limit. So say 25 story office buildings on blocks of 18 story office buildings.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 4, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

Falls Church,

Your equation isn't complete. It doesn't adjust for costs incurred by the DC government that are attributable to the DC resident worker and not consumed by the non-resident. Costs associated with the DC resident would be costs to pay for schools for the DC resident's children, police, trash pick-up, fire protection, roads, etc. Yes a non-resident does use a small portion of the roads, trash, police, etc. but not nearly to the extent a resident does. Further, the biggest cost on the board is education costs.

So using your equation the costs of employing the two groups by the DC government:

Non-resident = $50K + X
Resident = $50K * (1 - tax rate) + Y = $50K * 0.95 + Y = $47,500

X = government costs attributed to the non-resident for using 10 hours/day 5 days a week worth of government services.

Y = government costs attributed to the resident worker for 24 hours/day - 7 days a week worth of government services.

Given the cost of education 1 child in DC is 18K/year - non-resident will likely be cheaper overall.

Let's also not get into the Constitutional issues of treating people in the same class different via taxes and the Constitutional guaranteed protections of freedom of traveling over state lines.

by Burger on Oct 4, 2012 2:12 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: I am not taking a stand on this proposal; nevertheless, such an increase in height will still affect the value of the neighboring buildings. That is, an increasing the height limits will be a very profitable for developers that own a lot that they will build on; otoh, owners of existing buildings will take a hit.

by goldfish on Oct 4, 2012 2:12 pm • linkreport

But (sigh) to carry on: Imagine you own a 3-storey building, and next to you a 15-storey building was just built.

What does that have to do with an absolute height limit?

Imagine you own a 3-story building, and next to it an 11-story building that complies with the height act was just built...

by Alex B. on Oct 4, 2012 2:15 pm • linkreport

Ok, but I simply don't think the fact that the presence of a taller building next door could have possibly marginally-negative effect on the assessed value enough of a justification to write a law banning buildings above a certain height. Then that's the government protecting landowners/building owners from competition.

by drumz on Oct 4, 2012 2:19 pm • linkreport

In addition to the myriad examples of tall buildings next to short ones all over downtown DC in fact. Prices are still high and so any negative effect that a new taller building may have had only affects the marginal level rather than de facto condemning a building.

So you may not be making a stand and merely acknowledging, the thing is I acknowledge it as well. I just don't see how its compelling in any way.

by drumz on Oct 4, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

@drumz & @Alex B: take it up with your local city councilmember. I was only explaining some of the economic boundary effects, why they spawned the zoning laws.

by goldfish on Oct 4, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

presto, your property just decreased in value.

Imagine you own a piece of land with a 3-story building, and then the city tells you that you can never build anything taller than 3-stories on it. Presto, your property just decreased in value. But unlike in your scenario, there is no way to recover the value of that land.

Also, I reject the premise that building a 15 story building next to a 3 story building reduces the value of the 3 story building. I can't think of any case where that is true.

by David C on Oct 4, 2012 3:20 pm • linkreport

debating 15 story buildings amont 3 story buildings is irrelevant. The City Paper piece was in response to data on office rents, and clearly was addressed to the impact of the height limit downtown. It was NOT about upzoning townhouse neighborhoods for hirises.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 4, 2012 3:38 pm • linkreport

@David C

The best example I can think of where tall buildings are near small ones are in Arlington. Specifically Clarendon. Tall buildings at Wilson and Clarendon Blvd, and then single family homes. I don't think you are going to argue that values of those single family homes are depressed? Those are some of the most expensive homes in the area.

by Kyle-w on Oct 4, 2012 4:01 pm • linkreport

You mean to tell me that the overall value of a building has more than one factor (the greatest being location) than the relative height of its neighbors?

by drumz on Oct 4, 2012 4:11 pm • linkreport

actually clarendon has step down zoning - "hirises" (that would fit the DC height limit anyway - they aren't that tall) next to townhomes, next to SFH's.

by AWalkerInTheCIty on Oct 4, 2012 4:16 pm • linkreport

I suggest a commuter tax on Congressmen.

Oh wait... who would have to pass that tax again... :-)

by Nathanael on Oct 9, 2012 5:46 pm • linkreport

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