Greater Greater Washington

Development


Raise the height limit? That's part of a bigger question

Should DC raise its height limit? A study aims to answer this question, but we can't consider this issue entirely in a vacuum. The real question is, where should DC grow?


Photo by jerdlngr on Flickr.

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and DC Office of Planning (OP) are running the study, which includes 5 public meetings over the next 2 weeks, starting this Saturday in Tenleytown.

Rapidly-rising housing prices in the District show that many more people want to live in DC than do today. Without extra supply, that means more gentrification, and greater numbers of less wealthy renters getting pushed out of their longtime neighborhoods.

More supply isn't the only solution, but it's an important piece. In short, DC is building housing fast, but not fast enough.

So where should this housing go? There are obstacles to new housing just about everywhere.

  • In wealthy neighborhoods, residents file lawsuits against new developments, and the historic preservation process often lops off an extra floor or two for project after project.
  • In poorer neighborhoods, many residents also worry about larger buildings, and fear that change will bring gentrification that displaces longtime residents.
  • Downtown, the height limit restricts buildings so that there is very little more that can be built.
DC hasn't maxed out on available development sites yetthere are more buildings yet to go up in NoMA, around the ballpark, in Hill East, at McMillan (whatever survives strong neighborhood opposition and historic review), and elsewhere. But as Payton Chung pointed out, the Office of Planning's estimates leave only about 60,000 more housing units of space in vacant lots and major redevelopment opportunities.

Beyond that, and even before, the growth has to go to wealthy neighborhoods, poorer neighborhoods, and/or downtown. We haven't had a citywide discussion about what mix of these is the right one. Instead, individual neighborhoods and developers fight the same battle on site after site. Each neighborhood tries to be the best at pushing development to someone else's neighborhood. Some "succeed" more than others.

The same happens for transportation. The MoveDC study is looking at how much to focus transportation investment on the downtown or on neighborhoods. This question goes hand in hand with the question of where to grow. Neighborhoods and BIDs all want transportation investments. The right answer is to locate the transportation investments in and around the places where we want the growth to be.

Not growing is a bad solution for many reasons, and isn't even realistic. The height limit may be one part of an answer. If it's not, then residents need to find answers elsewhere, not stick their heads in the sand.

The 5 meetings are:

  • Saturday, August 3, 10:30-12:30 at the Tenley-Friendship Library
  • Tuesday, August 6, 6:38-8:30 pm at Dorothy Height/Benning Library
  • Wednesday, August 7, 6:38-8:30 pm at the Mt. Pleasant Library
  • Saturday, August 10, 10:30-12:30 at Catholic University's Crough Center
  • Tuesday, August 13, 6:38-8:30 pm at the Office of Planning in Southwest
Please try to attend one (or all!) of the meetings and voice your opinions on the height limit and DC's growth.
David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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"Beyond that, and even before, the growth has to go to wealthy neighborhoods, poorer neighborhoods, and/or downtown. We haven't had a citywide discussion about what mix of these is the right one."

I think this is a common, but possibly troublesome, sentiment. The District needs very different things in every corner.

by Michael Hamilton on Jul 29, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

There's a close tie between the height limit and Metro expansion. If you raise the height limit soon, development goes to the west end of downtown and downtown. Then you need to separate the Blue Line from the Orange with a new tunnel under the Potomac.

If you don't raise the height limit, development goes around the waterfront and north of Union Station. Then it makes more sense to separate the Yellow and Green Lines. (That creates just as much cross-Potomac capacity as separating the Blue and Orange, because the combined Blue/Yellow tracks mean that a new Blue Line tunnel can only run at 50% capacity.)

The separated Blue Line is by far the more expensive option. If you raise the height limit, you need a plan to pay for it.

by Ben Ross on Jul 29, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

Why would OP compress all 5 public meetings during the first two weeks of August? Aren't those the two prime vacation weeks of the summer? Seems like "Putinesque", Soviet-style public outreach, not a schedule to ensure that as many DC residents as possible have a chance to attend a public meeting.

by Sarah on Jul 29, 2013 2:47 pm • linkreport

I think some of those dates might be off. Either that or they are really planning to take liberties with the definition of Aug 3rd.

by Alan B. on Jul 29, 2013 2:47 pm • linkreport

Sarah, meetings have actually been going on since May. This is just Phase II of several phases. http://www.ncpc.gov/heightstudy/participate.html#meetings1 I don't think there is a conspiracy here, in this case.

by Alan B. on Jul 29, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

What's the consensus on raising the height limit across the Anacostia? I understand it may be seen as gentrifying lower income neighborhoods, but is there any other significant opposition? Most of the wealthier neighborhoods are "historic" and built out anyway, so it seems Wards 7/8 are ideal for development. Just implement additional affordable housing measures to help ease the displacement of any existing residents.

by Jason L. on Jul 29, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

I've fixed the dates. I was making the list by copying and pasting the first one and forgot to fix all of those.

by David Alpert on Jul 29, 2013 3:06 pm • linkreport

Michael Hamilton: I agree we need some growth in all areas. Not everyone does.

by David Alpert on Jul 29, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

Downtown, downtown, downtown.

A: It's where prices are highest.
B: It's where you get the best value out of the existing transit system. It's also going to see the biggest investments in the future. Not just metro but you've got the highest concentration of bikeshare, bus service, and commuter rail.
C: Since not many people live downtown now, and those that are haven't been living there long you can avoid a lot of initial neighbor pushback. Moreover, since it's already very urban arguments against whatever people think is urban (noise, lack of trees, lack of yards, etc.) go out the door.
D: I took a good look at the pictures that City Paper put up that imagined a height limit bumped up to 200'. At some point there is going to be real aeshetic impact on monumental views but apparently it's definitely not at 200' which suggestst that we could go higher still.

In short, in any healthy city you'd see a lot of dynamism downtown with steady development radiating outward in all neighborhoods. We should strive to acheive that here in DC, that way we can have our cake and eat it too. This is acheivable since the city is growing in all wards.

by drumz on Jul 29, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

Ben is there an estimate for the cost for the seperated Green/yellow line? My impression is that the seperated blue line costs are mostly for the new line in DC and the new stations = maybe 1/5 to 1/4 for the Potomac crossing.

Im not disagreeing that the options are linked the way you suggest - at least WRT Navy Yard area. But NoMa would benefit from either line - thats part of the appeal of the seperate blue line - you get relief for the transfer stations, and you get capacity to downtown, and you get a new station in GTown, AND you get new access in NoMa.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 29, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

"We haven't had a citywide discussion about what mix of these is the right one."

I think this is a common, but possibly troublesome, sentiment. The District needs very different things in every corner.

Also, the notion that there is one mix that is 'right' or correct is a potentially misleading way to think about things. At its best, zoning is a rather blunt physical tool, setting the basic shape of the city and broad categories for building uses - but the more and more one tries to direct growth specifically (rather than setting the broad framework and letting things happen organically within it), the greater the chances of unintended consequences.

Why would OP compress all 5 public meetings during the first two weeks of August?

Congress set the deadline on this study for OP and NCPC.

by Alex B. on Jul 29, 2013 3:16 pm • linkreport

Thank you David for this much needed call for a wider vision of how we shoud grow. Urban planners etc. should look at the cities layout regardless of class and race to see how best to grow. Then as you say, envision a wider transportation network with a maximum existing zoning build out and see where we stand.

Even historic neighborhoods shouldn't be sacrosanct, all though it would be usefull to pull out two or three classes of historic neighborhoods. The gold plated one for places like Georgetown are fine becasue of their importance to the whole country, never mind our own city, but areas like Logan and even Petworth/upper Georgia should have a more elastic overlay to allow for more compatable infill to add density, especially around transportation. Afterall, architects have added to historic neighborhoods for generations, while being compatible, it's mostly since the second world war where architects have felt compelled to stand alone and aloof from their contexts.

by Thayer-D on Jul 29, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

OMG. Why can't we let this rest? It is not going to happen.

by Jasper on Jul 29, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

I like DC's height limit. It makes the city less harsh and more human. Now that the downtown has become much more successful, it creates incentives to spread new development out into other parts of the city and near-in suburbs, most of which would benefit from high-quality development and diverse use, and have decent transport and other infrastructure in place.

by Greenbelt on Jul 29, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

OMG. Why can't we let this rest? It is not going to happen.

Umm, what? The reason this has come up lately is that some members of Congress and others are actually interested in changing it.

by MLD on Jul 29, 2013 3:57 pm • linkreport

I like DC's height limit. It makes the city less harsh and more human

I'm trying to understand this. When I'm downtown, it doesn't really feel different to me than any other american downtown. It's a lot of pavement and tall buildings. There are still shadows on certain sides of the street. Meanwhile the economic impact is huge. I know the counter is to say that economics shouldn't rule everything but at what point do we let one particular aesthetic consideration outweigh literally almost everything (price, transit,etc.)?

Again, look at the pics that showed a 200' limit. What seems more harsh about it?

Further, why are cities considered inhuman? They're the most human thing imaginable. It's one of the big things that sets us apart from other species.

by drumz on Jul 29, 2013 4:11 pm • linkreport

"Umm, what? The reason this has come up lately is that some members of Congress and others are actually interested in changing it."

So much for local rule.

by charlie on Jul 29, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

I recommend the far-out plan of air rights (decking) over the ivy city yard. Eventually, it's going to happen.

by Randall M. on Jul 29, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

So much for local rule.

The Height of Buildings Act is a federal law passed by Congress. DC has no ability to alter it on its own. Why the glib negativity?

by MLD on Jul 29, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

Thank you, David, for a very thoughtful article. I especially appreciate the way that you describe legislation passed with the very best intentions has become a cudgel with which to beat back development.

Historic preservation is, of course, the most notorious and subjective of these cudgels. In my own experience, I inevitably see the followings sequence: Neighbors grouse about everything from lack of sufficient construction insurance to the impact on parking, get nowhere with anybody, and then suddenly realize that the best way to stop the development is to object to it on historic preservation grounds.

The preservation community in DC is usually happy to oblige (if they are not objecting already) and another opportunity for growth and neighborhood rejuvenation sinks.

One of the most dismaying elements of the impact of NIMBY-enabling historic preservation law is that the impact is hard to measure. Historic preservation has a chilling impact on growth and change as many homeowners decide that the it's just not even worth it since the cost is so high and the chances of success so slim.

Consider these costs:

1) How many homeowners do not even bother to start the historic review process because they expect (not unreasonably) that just a few cycles of conversations with HPO staff and their architect will set them back some $10,000? Even projects that might have passed muster are not undertaken because of the extremely subjective nature of the process. Who wants to risk that amount of money with no guarantee of success?

2) How many young families see their neighbors give up on (or be beaten down by) the historic preservation process and just leave the District, taking their money, their energy, and their commitment to neighborhood groups and schools with them?

3) How much cost do endless rounds of responses to the exquisitely precise whims of Nancy Metzger, Gretchen Pfaehler, et al add to the cost of housing in historic districts? What if we could just build to a form-based code?

4) How much does this artificial restriction on supply drive up the cost of housing for people that are --economically speaking-- on the margin of being able to afford to live in certain neighborhoods? Historic preservation has the impact of driving out long-term residents, many of them minorities.

It is long since time for a serious consideration of historic preservation and its leaden hand on our communities' growth and its accelerating impact on housing prices.

G.G.

by Growth Guy on Jul 29, 2013 4:28 pm • linkreport

@charlie: Well, if Congress were to unilaterally repeal the Height Act, that would be a giant boon to local rule.

by Payton on Jul 29, 2013 4:31 pm • linkreport

Ben Ross:
"There's a close tie between the height limit and Metro expansion."

Perhaps but not necessarily. Although the NIMBYs would surely throw a huge fit, two prime candidates for taller (everyone panic-- 15-20 story buildings!!!) are Friednship Hts and Van Ness. It is easy to imagine residents living here in taller buildings commuting to jobs in Bethesda and elsewhere in Montgomery Co.

You raise another good point, however. Even if the Height Act is relaxed (which I certainly hope it is) the taller buildings will still be subject to Offie of Planning zoning requirements, ANC input, DDOT traffic analysis, historical preservation requirements and the half dozen other reviews that I am forgetting.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

If we allowed heights to rise in day, downtown, to 200', would we still encourage the existing development pattern of big boxy buildings covering the entire lot up to 200' in height, or would we start to require facade stepbacks, tower separation, open and green spaces?

If it's the former, it'll further the negative tunnel/canyon like feeling of DC's streets, but would increase density. If it's the latter, i'm not sure you get any additional density for your height. It's a game of floor area ratios (FAR). A FAR of 10 just about gets you what you see now, full lot coverage, at 10 floors of height. A FAR of 10 could also get you a 18 story (~200 ft) building with a couple floors that cover most of the lot, and a tall tower that covers just under 50% of the lot (a lot like Rosslyn or DT Silver Spring), or a 35 - 40 story building that has a couple of floors that covers most of the lot, some public use space, and a tall thin tower that covers 25% of the lot (not all that different from what a lot of downtowns like Baltimore and Philadelphia have).

If the discussion is about increasing density in the downtown, more than a simple discussion on height limits needs to be looked at. We need to consider height, and FAR, and the benefits and consequences of the two are when acting together.

by Gull on Jul 29, 2013 4:36 pm • linkreport

I'd prefer that nothing happens with the height act until all the open lots in Hill East (including Reservation 13) are built up with condos / apartments / offices / retail. Some DC neighborhoods need more density, especially those in Capitol Hill near metro stops.

by DLG on Jul 29, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

Opponents of relaxing the Height Act should be required to answer two questions:

1)If 500 foot radio towers in Tenley haven't ruined the views of the Capitol, Washington Monument, and other historical sites one bit, why would a 175-200 ft building next to some of the more distant metro stations in the District ruin any views?

2) This (http://assets.urbanturf.com/dc/images/blog/2012/01/archstone_wisconsin.jpg) and this (http://www.areappraisal.com/xSites/Appraisers/areappraisals/Content/UploadedFiles/somerset%20house%20-%20image.png ) are allowed right across the street on the Friendship Hts side of Maryland. If a 175 ft building directly across the street from the DC side of Friendship Hts or Silver Spring won't compromise any views, then why can't we have them on the DC side of these neighborhoods?

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

I support relaxing the Height Act but another interesting study would be how much housing all of the land currently used as surface parking lots owned by the fed govt within the District could have. The parking lot behind the House office builings is only the most egregious example but there are US Postal facilities with large surface lots and the large vehicle maintenance lot for the Capital Police right on either Half Street or South Capitol Street.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 4:43 pm • linkreport

Buildings over the "height limit" which are apparently destroying the fabric of our city:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Post_Office_Pavilion

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Franklin_Park_%26_One_Franklin_Square_-_Washington,_D.C..jpg

I'm all for some additional architectal review over the current limit, but those "sky is falling" attitude among some groups is just insane.

by Alan B. on Jul 29, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

This (http://www.fybush.com/Tower%20Site/100212/tenleytown2.jpg) hasn't ruined views of the Capitol but a 200-ft building 1/3 the height of these towers will?

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

Here's another one that hasn't ruined a single view of a monument: http://www.fybush.com/Tower%20Site/100212/wttg.jpg .

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

@Alan B:
Perhaps if there were a couple of more (residential) buildings the size of One Franklin Square, downtown might actually be vibrant on the weekends instead of a ghost-town (aside from NOMA and Gallery Place).

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

One important and little understood point about the study is that it is only seeking to address the federal interest in the DC height limit. I.e., what say should Congress have over building heights in the nation's capital and what places are affected? This is important because if Congress acts to lift the limit anywhere in DC, it merely lifts Congressional jurisdiction of that area. It would still take local DC action to update area plans, comp plans... and yet another zoning update before taller buildings could be built. At a prior meeting, Harriet Tregoning estimated this process at 5 years minimum. And of course it would take years and even a decade or more to see widespread economic development take advantage of any new height rules.

The point is that even if major changes to the Height Act take place (unlikely in my view), it will take a long time to see any changes and because so many additional and politically challenging steps are required, there's not a guarantee that anything would happen at all.

by Jonathan P on Jul 29, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

I think we also have to remember that height limits are just that not a mandate that private developers will see sense in building that tall everywhere especially far away from transit. We generally don't mandate a minimum height for most buildings so even if we upzone everyting to the height limit you are never going to get a uniformly dense city. Really it comes down to transit. Yes Paris and Amsterdam etc are shorter and uniform but Paris has a huge Metro system and Amsterdam is very tram/bike centric with tiny roads. Realistically say no height limit change is not really for better growth distribution it's pretty much anti-growth.

by Alan B. on Jul 29, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

One federal interest is that relaxing the Height Act would help allow more people to live within walking distance of metro, with more potential passengers. More passengers means that WMATA funding would be more sustainable, reducing the need for federal subsidies.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

How about we think about this as a means of expanding the tax base and as a tool of economic development instead of an all or nothing proposition? If certain buildings fill certain needs like combining a residential component in the city core and provides some other public good, let's allow them to build something a little taller. Let's not build taller because we can but because we have the infrastructure and a laser-focused purpose for doing it.

Also, even if we said "200 feet for everyone" tomorrow, not every building that could be made taller would be made taller. The historic view sheds would not be automatically and irrevocably tinged.

That said, I'm not convinced that that all space is used. I'm serious about air rights over rail yards or RFK.

by Randall M. on Jul 29, 2013 5:10 pm • linkreport

@growthguy,

Just because you say that historic preservation has a "chilling" impact on economic growth doesn't make it so. Most of the literature, in fact, supports the opposite conclusion, that historic preservation drives economic renewal, stable neighborhoods and rising property values. See, for example,
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2012/10/how-historic-preservation-helped-save-denvers-downtown/3594/

Consider how Charleston and Savannah would be without strong historic preservation laws. Closer to home, Georgetown, Capitol Hill and Cleveland Park have strong historic district protection and are considered to be among Washington's most desirable/livable neighborhoods.

by Sarah on Jul 29, 2013 5:17 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure about you, but I can see through those narrow radio towers, 202_cyclist.

by selxic on Jul 29, 2013 5:30 pm • linkreport

@selxic:

That buildings is in Rosslyn, three miles from the Washington monument. Friendship Heights is six miles from the Washington monument. Additionally, Rosslyn and the Capitol and Washington monument are approximately the same height as Rosslyn. Friendship Heights and Georgia Avenue are higher up, so the tourist or pedestrian standing on the ground is less likely to see them compared with the building you posted in Rosslyn.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 5:39 pm • linkreport

Consider how Charleston and Savannah would be without strong historic preservation laws. Closer to home, Georgetown, Capitol Hill and Cleveland Park have strong historic district protection and are considered to be among Washington's most desirable/livable neighborhoods.

I tend to agree. Historic preservation is basically a "loss leader" for the city. It does take money out of the pockets of individuals in the form of increased carrying costs if you own in such a neighborhood, but it pays dividends in the sense that your city will become more popular and it will attract residents and visitors to the city and spur economic development even outside of the historic preservation zones.

DC is SO MUCH MORE than Georgetown and Capital Hill. But if either of those places looked like Friendship Heights or NoMa, the entire city would be much less appealing to the point that Friendship Heights and NoMa might not even exist.

by JustMe on Jul 29, 2013 6:05 pm • linkreport

With respect to the convergence of the height limit and historic preservation, we should probably just remove height/building mass as a factor HRPB can take into account since they tend to abuse that power. For instance: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/17171/board-lauds-13th-and-u-design-still-balks-at-height/.

by 7r3y3r on Jul 29, 2013 6:46 pm • linkreport

I'm well aware of where the building is located, 202_cyclist. The photo was to give a real world representation of ~200 feet instead of comparing a building to a radio tower.

by selxic on Jul 29, 2013 6:53 pm • linkreport

Infrastructure overload matters. Everyone always assumes that those of us in central areas have great transit. We don't, we have the worst to the point walking or biking or cabs are the best way to get around. I take Metro to DCA sometimes but I never want to go to Capitol Heights or Greenbelt or anyplace in between that involves walking several blocks the wrong way and then transferring. And Metro buses are full and you can't get on in the mornings. Yet we have all these Metro stops in inner suburbs and in DC that are totally undeveloped. Spread the wealth and develop those Metro stops first.

And continually tearing down buildings to build slightly taller ones is environmentally destructive. It's the same unfortunate American dependence on abandon and build new construction our economy is based on.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 29, 2013 7:56 pm • linkreport

Some people like the city the way it is, why is that so hard to understand?

by NIMBY 4Life on Jul 29, 2013 7:57 pm • linkreport

@drumz,
Sorry, but your normally cheerful boosting for taller buildings seems a little over the top.

You say your trying to understand how a city full of tall (10stories+) buildings might not appeal to everyone. Really? It's not to say that they're right, but they're right for them as you're right to like 50 story downtowns.

"When I'm downtown, it doesn't really feel different to me than any other american downtown. " Again, really? Not to nitpick, but if most american downtown's felt like DC, america's cities would be doing great.

"at what point do we let one particular aesthetic consideration outweigh literally almost everything (price, transit,etc.)" Hyperbole much? David's point was that there should be a wider discussion about our future before we chant downtown, downtown, downtown - drill baby drill!

@growth guy,
You make historic preservation out to be the great satan, but lest you should forget, historic preservation saved what makes some of our great cities livable and even special, to say nothing about the living history lesson we can give our children. You say getting slammed at the review process will cost a client thousands. Maybe if the client/architect saw whole historic neighborhoods to be greater than the sum of parts, they might humble their egos for the greater good. I know this is anathema, but I'd love to show how one can find historic neighborhoods in DC (and NYC) where building age spans more than 100 years, yet one can find compositional elements that transced style. Afterall, we insist on manners in gatherings, why couldn't we spread some of that behavior towards our cities?

When planners and developers where more than happy to flatten these historic neighborhoods for progress (a highway to the burbs) it was preservationists who stood in their way. Now that the market has discovered the charm of these neighborhoods (and whites aren't as freaked out about blacks), these buildings are keeping our city back.

Balance is hard to put on a bumper sticker or yell indignantly against ones foes, but that's all we're talking about. To say this city will falter if we don't get taller buildings reminds me of those anti-tax zealots who say 3% more on the upper income bracket will crush our economy.
Really?

by Thayer-D on Jul 29, 2013 8:01 pm • linkreport

I'm not saying their concerns aren't valid, but I'm looking for the substantive differences on the street between a 10 story canyon wall vs one that's higher. I don't really see it, the pics from last week help prove the point.

I can see the differnce when it's a 2-4 story limit to something higher but downtown all the buildings are already high rises, even if they're on the low side.

Re: #1 consideration,

Again, I get why it's legitimate that height/view/whatever is the number one consideration, but isn't there a breaking point? At some point you keep the height limit as-is to the detriment of other considerations, which is fine but if people are discussing the parameters then that's something that needs to be considered.

by drumz on Jul 29, 2013 8:12 pm • linkreport

That said, I'm fine with people having different values. It's just from where I see it, it's possible to preserve and promote those values, while allowing taller buildings. If for anything, because the horse has already left the barn in some cases.

by drumz on Jul 29, 2013 8:20 pm • linkreport

"Yet we have all these Metro stops in inner suburbs and in DC that are totally undeveloped."

Where? None in Nova, or in MoCo.

Basically the undeveloped metro stops are in PG and EOTR DC. Which raises the questions of gentrification DA raised above.

As for the sustainability issue from constant redevelopment - well that could be addressed by allowing a finite limt of growth beyond the old height limit, and allowing some kind of market for it - perhaps an auction. The incentive would be to apply it to the remaining soft parcels, or to tear down one building and rebuild substantially, rather than add two stories to all of them.

Of course the ideal way to address the GHG emissions from builing would be to price GHG emissions, so a builder would pay the enviro costs of their building inputs. That would require a sensible congress.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 29, 2013 9:09 pm • linkreport

The "Southwest ecodistrict"

badly designed. about to be rebuilt. What is the gain from keeping heights lower there? If we rebuild it at the current limit, thats an opportunity lost.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 29, 2013 9:11 pm • linkreport

The only reason this conversation is useful (unlike all the other times blogs raise it) is because Congress seems to want the discussion. Unless they are on board, it is academic in the extreme and just a lot of wasted yaaking as far as I am concerned. Like it was something DC could change all on its own which isn't the case.

I have no problem raising it some and maybe even a bit more than some along metro stations or at least having a nuanced plan instead of a one size fits all approach.

by ET on Jul 29, 2013 9:21 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity:
"Where? None in Nova, or in MoCo"

West Falls Church, Huntington, and Vam Dorn are three that immediately come to mind with large surface parking lots.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 29, 2013 9:31 pm • linkreport

I asked which are totally undeveloped. Huntington has a pair of post 2000 dense buildings nearby, Van Dorn has a couple of buildings in pipeline nearby.

Both Huntington and WFC are slated by WMATA to have their parking lots developed. Van Dorn's lot is not large.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 29, 2013 9:42 pm • linkreport

@202_cyclist, responding to AWalkerInTheCity:

I'd add:
Forest Glen
Takoma
Fort Totten

Admitting that the latter two have had some development near the Metro, but the large parking lots remain, for now.

by EMD on Jul 29, 2013 9:46 pm • linkreport

one more time, Tom C referred to places that were totally undeveloped. Not to some that still have SOME parking lots.

Note, eliminating surface parking means either replacing with garages at some cost, or eliminating parking near metro. Something that will not happen without some resistance.

Anyway, if y'all want all that development to happen outside DC, fine. It would be nice if there were some suburban metros that had the same transit shares as downtown DC. Crystal City probably comes closest, but needs at least one more metro line.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 29, 2013 9:53 pm • linkreport

and the thing is, its not like nothing will be built in downtown DC while you wait for Capital Height Metro to get built out.

SW ecodistrict for example. But it will be built out at the current limit, requiring rebuilding when you do finally achieve build out at Capital Heights and Deanwood.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 29, 2013 9:55 pm • linkreport

None in Nova, or in MoCo.

I once got stuck at Shady Grove having to wait 30 minutes for a shuttlebus. There was no place to go during my wait! You'd figure for a major transit hub, I should have been able to walk a few steps away and pick up a cup of coffee. But no. Huge parking lot. I'm not even sure what's outside it.

by Tyro on Jul 29, 2013 9:57 pm • linkreport

tyro

Again the reference was to inner suburbs. Shady Grove is in MoCo, but not the inner part. Do you suggest waiting till every parking lot at every end of the line station has condos replace its parking lots before examining the height limit? You will be waiting a very long time.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 29, 2013 10:02 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity, 9:53 PM:

Crystal City is suburban? If only because not in the District political boundaries.

Is there any reason, other than political boundaries, to think of Crystal City and Rosslyn, and maybe places like Silver Spring and such places (pleading ignorance on close-in NoVa), as something other than urban? I mean, I'd add several Metro stops in the District proper as having a more distinctly suburban feel (such as Takoma, Fort Totten, maybe anything north of, and including, Cleveland Park, on the western Red Line).

I agree with you that there are *many* development opportunities around Metro stations that remain underdeveloped. But, I think we definitely need to redefine urban and suburban as something other than in or out of the District. Chunks of NE and NW feel quite inner suburban, and chunks of NoVa, MoCo, and Prince George's feel relatively urban.

by EMD on Jul 29, 2013 10:16 pm • linkreport

What I have not seen is any numbers for how much downtown office space density the current transportation infrastructure can handle. Can we add significantly more office space to the K street area and still get the workers there to fill it?

A single metro station can transport up to 20,000 people per hour and each of the three metro lines can transport up to 65,000 people per hour to all its downtown station. We could add more buses/streetcars to increase the road capacity, and we could separate the blue/orange lines and yellow/green lines but that would do more to expand the size of downtown than to increase the capacity to transport into the existing downtown.

On thing that raising the height limit would do would be to add more high rise residential buildings into the downtown area. That may not be a bad thing.

by Dave S on Jul 29, 2013 10:41 pm • linkreport

Adding residential to downtown would be a great thing, but wouldn't that just make the office market tighter further inflaming the downtown(x3) crowd? So then you'd be "forcing" out the new local Google building to Tysons I guess, except they might be fine out there with all their high tech bretheren. I say this to point out that this all or nothing debate if we don't raise the height in downtown is a bit of a falling sky argument. With commuting patterns now becoming hard to predict due to all the smaller centers and fluid job market, it's all the more reason to think about spreading out growth.

To that end, the amount of growth that can be accommodated is far from understood. Even if a metro stop is mildly developed or a bit far out, one can still add up the potential development as part of the DC market. If a Bethesda property is 3 stories, yet can support 16, that's like a flat sight in DC potentially getting a 13 story building. It needs to be tabulated to make an informed decision about height limits. Plus some artistry would be nice.

by Thayer-D on Jul 29, 2013 11:02 pm • linkreport

We don't have any sign the feds are going to finance increasing capacity at the saturated central DC Metro stations. Far from it.

Without that possibility, if for no other reason, we should encourage through incentives, including raised height limits, development around our existing Metro stations that are underused. London didn't get Docklands and Paris didn't get la Defense by chance; they planned them.

But here, in the capital of the most powerful and richest nation we let local developers dictate our planning to meet their desires. And then we do mental gymnastics to rationalize how utterly intelligent what they dictate is. It isn't.

by Tom Coumaris on Jul 29, 2013 11:41 pm • linkreport

OMG. Why can't we let this rest? It is not going to happen.
But it *has already happened*. The city approved putting the zero point of the coming 10-story project on H Street NE at the crest of the overpass so its effective height with respect to its neighbors will be more like 14 stories. Maybe more, since some nearby streets are at a lower grade because the overpass used to be an underpass.

Let's suppose the new building isn't windowless. As soon as the top tenants there start enjoying the unique view, the real-estate industry will, by hook or by crook, build to that same altitude or higher.

by Turnip on Jul 30, 2013 7:09 am • linkreport

Arlington method: corridors of height along Metro lines with pearls at Metro stops. No changes to L'Enfant DC, the historic core, just like many other world class cities. Prices will remain high as the city continues to be a desirable place to live/invest. The real estate market is not a free market; never has been, never will be. General principles of supply and demand don't apply without a whole lot of caveats and contortions.

by crin on Jul 30, 2013 7:58 am • linkreport

Oh, and retunnel all of Metro while you're adding all that density. System will need second tubes and express lines. There's that little thing to consider. City can't even upgrade it's 100+ year old sewer system (instead pushing the capital cost of replacements onto individual homeowners and their rain barrels, and their "please don't hook up to the sewer system" approach to maintenance).

So any height question has to include how we upgrade Metro and sewer in the face of a recent history of not even keeping up with cyclical maintenance.

by crin on Jul 30, 2013 8:04 am • linkreport

The supply and demand argument usually is presented as afact, yet also is presented without evidence. Has the height limit made Bethesda, Rosslyn, or now White Flint more affordable? It's certainly made Rosslyn in particular a poster child for sheer ugliness and bad urban form and Bethesda's high riuse strip and the new places in WF aren't much better.. What about NYC--rents just seem to keep climbing, regardless. Also, high rises are not necessarily more economical to build and unless they and their neighbors support ground floor life forms, you wind up with places like Wisconsin Ave in Bethesda, downtown Rosslyn and the lifeless apartment complexes at White Flint. Rosslyn amd Bethesda have super markets, etc., but they're hiddena nd don't create foot traffic around them. Just having a lot of people living or working in some tall buildings doesn't by natural consequence create life or its potential.

by Rich on Jul 30, 2013 8:41 am • linkreport

There isn't affordable housing for federal employees in the city. Raising the Height Limit is a no brainer. But mid-priced units must be reserved for federal employees and their families.

by Redline SOS on Jul 30, 2013 8:48 am • linkreport

@Rich-- I think many people w

by 202_cyclist on Jul 30, 2013 8:59 am • linkreport

I think many people would argue that Bethesda is one of the most desirable communities in the DC region, if not the country.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 30, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

Rich, the argument is that DC would be more affordable without the height limit than with it. Not that DC would more affordable than other places in the world. Building up is expensive, so it's only done in places where land is valuable. High land values are the cause of both high rents AND tall buildings. But height limits only make the high rents higher (and increase transportation costs)

by David C on Jul 30, 2013 9:12 am • linkreport

Has the height limit made Bethesda, Rosslyn, or now White Flint more affordable?

The final cost depends on a number of factors. Height is but one. I'm sure if you could put the same building in Bethesda along K street the price would be even higher. All things being equal, an increase in supply lowers the price.

Same goes for the NYC example (that's brought up every time).

by drumz on Jul 30, 2013 9:15 am • linkreport

EMD I mention Crystal as "suburban" only in two senses - its a major office center that is an alternative to downtown DC, and it does not pay taxed to the District.

Rich - Rosslyn had several problems with design - too much single use, and unattractive buildings, and roads to wide and ped unfriendly. Arlington is trying to rectify that, and also Crystal City. that rectification will involve greater density, and taller buildings.

I am going to ask again. What is the value of the current height limit being in place for SW ecodistrict, in the context of its redevelopment?

Tom C

"We don't have any sign the feds are going to finance increasing capacity at the saturated central DC Metro stations. Far from it. "

What evidence is there they won't? The New Starts program has been funding transit projects around the country, including almost 1 billion toward the Silver Line. The seperated Blue Line is not far along enough to present to FTA. What reason is there to think they would be uninterested?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 9:17 am • linkreport

Re: evidence. In the morning links of 7/29 we see evidence of rents going down in certain classes of buildings in DC. And while people like to bring out NYC, we also have Chicago which went through a high rise boom and it's prices have remained stable more or less.

by drumz on Jul 30, 2013 9:19 am • linkreport

Affordability in Rosslyn.

Rosslyn does not have DC's height limit, but it does have both an FAA imposed height limit, and FAR restrictions. And a finite amount of land. and its located walking distance to Gtown, a short metro ride to western downtown DC, and its in a top notch school district. Developers are building new residential units there, but have not caught up with demand - and at build out, housing in Rosslyn will still be scarce, due to its many advantages.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 9:19 am • linkreport

David writes: >Without extra supply, that means more gentrification, and greater numbers of less wealthy renters getting pushed out of their longtime neighborhoods.<

More supply=less gentrification? That strikes me as a reach, unless the supply overwhelms the market and forces a considerable decline in prices.

by kob on Jul 30, 2013 9:26 am • linkreport

kop, Im going to have to sound like Drumz and say "ceteris paribis"

All other things being equal. Less gentrification than would otherwise take place. Even a few more units of supply, could mean a few less units per year of gentrification. There would still be plenty of gentrification.

As for Docklands

Canary Wharf has several buildings over 500 ft. If someone wants that in the DC area, they are free to suggest where that is possible, and how they would create it. note Canary wharf is less than 5 miles from the center of London.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 9:45 am • linkreport

Regarding metro-rail capacity in DC's core, isn't a significant point of DC's investment in the planned 37-mile streetcar network not only to connect neighborhoods that are not currently served by metro-rail and encourage growth here but to provide more transit capacity at a fraction of the cost that new metro lines would cost?

Additionally, as pointed out above by others, jobs and commuting patterns have become so dispersed that there is no reason to assume that people living in taller buildings allowed by relaxing the Height Act next to the Friendship Hts or Georgia Ave metro stations would commute to jobs downtown, especially with the Purple line providing a new east-west transit connection.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 30, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

Also, Docklands aside. There are still skyscrapers in the City of London as well. Several, the view was quite impressive from the Tower of London.

by drumz on Jul 30, 2013 9:53 am • linkreport

DC hasn't maxed out on developing available land. If the soccer stadium goes through there is a massive swath of land along the Anacostia that currently is unused 99% of the time.
DC really needs to work now, in tandem with the new DC United stadium to get agreement with NPS, Congress and other stakeholders to develop a plan to bring commercial, residential and parks to this huge area. This is a once in a lifetime redevelopment project that can do a lot for the city.
Density done right and neighborhoods that are vibrant both 9-5 and 5-10 are key to its success.

by andy2 on Jul 30, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

Yes, the street cars should relieve congestion at core metro stations, by providing an alternative for short distance riders to using the metro. Its not yet clear how well that strategy will work. I think the consensus is that any significant increase in development in the CBD, esp growth in employment, will require new metrorail capacity as well as the street cars.

As for Ga avenue, is it the height limit that is constraining there,or FAR restrictions?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 9:55 am • linkreport

Not growing is a bad solution for many reasons, and isn't even realistic. The height limit may be one part of an answer. If it's not, then residents need to find answers elsewhere, not stick their heads in the sand.

No one is advocating no growth. DC is growing more rapidly now than it did during the past several decades. Apparently, that’s not rapidly enough for some – fine. But if people think “faster growth than any time in the last few decades and one of the fastest growing jurisdictions in the country” is good enough, painting them as anti-growth appears a bit hyperbolic, to say the least.

I understand that the current boom time is too slow for some people. It reminds me of those in ’99 or ’06 who were telling us that we needed to get the government out of the way and unleash stocks/housing. It also reminds me of the “let’s get rid of the old and push in the new” was responsible for so much devastation inflicted upon our cities in the 60’s. Jane Jacobs would be attacked as a NIMBYist these days.

by Chatham on Jul 30, 2013 9:59 am • linkreport

A lot of this discussion about development capacity in the suburbs is promoting polycentricity. The debate about the height limit and Metro expansion _within the city_ is about recentralization and maintaining DC's position within the metropolitan commercial and residential landscape. From that perspective, who cares about all those stations in NoVA, PG, or even MoCo. (cf. the discussion in _Cities in Full_)

I have come to believe that the only way to fund Metro expansion within the city is through the height limit change.

But, people don't want to locate in Anacostia or Friendship Heights for business, they want to locate in key activity centers. It's the whole basis of urban economics. (Agglomeration economies.) So increased building height will mostly be captured in the CBD.

Allowing height increases in other parts of the city but not the CBD promotes a different kind of polycentrism, which I call "intra-city sprawl," but even so, it would slow development by decades, because there just isn't the demand for development in non-central locations.

A separated blue line is more expensive, but VA should have to pay towards a Potomac Crossing, which they should have had to pay for anyway wrt the Silver Line. But at the same time it maintains the centrality of Downtown and primacy as a place to locate business and addresses capacity problems there now.

Similarly, over the long term, a separated yellow line will enable other development in DC.

If Maryland wanted to join in, they could do an extension somewhere in MoCo. For them, it should probably go up NH Avenue, but that wouldn't work that well for DC.

But a branch along New Hampshire Avenue in MoCo plugging into Fort Totten could support a separated green line as well.

2. P.S. fwiw, as far as HP and Friendship Heights goes, FH is a lot more than Wisconsin Avenue.

by Richard Layman on Jul 30, 2013 10:03 am • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity

Convince me that new housing will suppress increases in the prices of housing, all things being equal. Certainly NYC can't control its housing prices, rent control aside. The only thing that will significantly impact DC's housing prices, IMHO, is a decline or reversal in DC's population growth, and the perception that employment opportunities are declining.

You could point to Detroit, however. Had that city not encouraged new downtown housing to house the workers in its growing tech and professional sectors, would that have encourage gentrification of Detroit's embattled neighborhoods?

by kob on Jul 30, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport

Chatham

actually the question, as raised by DA is not about the pace of growth. Its about where it goes. Increase the pace or keep the pace the same, its still going to go somewhere. As it is its transforming existing neighborhoods. As they reach build out, it will mean transforming more neighborhoods. Now some folks think thats a good thing - they want more density at other locations in DC. DA is asking that we examine the implications of that.

The comparison is off - the problem with the spike in 2006 was not that we had boom and bust cycles in real estate - we've had LOTs of those before. It was that the banking system had become too concentrated, too interconnected, and its balance sheets too opaque. The answer is banking reform (which the GOP in congress has obstructed) not fearing any asset bubbles.

As for devestating our cities - yes thats the risk with suggestions to reduce historic preservation protections, and is even a risk with building as of right in some DC neighborhoods. Thats one reason to allow more development downtown, to drain off some of that demand.

Tell me - how does preventing taller buildings in someplace like the SW ecodistrict endanger the fabric of DC? Would Jane Jacobs be arguing for 130 foot buildings there, instead of 200 ft buildings?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 10:10 am • linkreport

"Convince me that new housing will suppress increases in the prices of housing, all things being equal."

Im not teaching microecon 101.

" Certainly NYC can't control its housing prices, rent control aside."

NYC prices would be WORSE if NYC had more severe restrictions on supply (BTW, NYC is NOT unregulated as far as supply - its got zoning, historical preservation, etc too).

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 10:12 am • linkreport

"A lot of this discussion about development capacity in the suburbs is promoting polycentricity."

Richard

a lot of people here do not understand the problems with polycentricity. In particular they deny the problems it presents for transit mode share.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 10:14 am • linkreport

No one is advocating no growth. DC is growing more rapidly now than it did during the past several decades. Apparently, that’s not rapidly enough for some – fine. But if people think “faster growth than any time in the last few decades and one of the fastest growing jurisdictions in the country” is good enough, painting them as anti-growth appears a bit hyperbolic, to say the least.

The question is about asking opponents to define 'good enough.'

Yes, the growth is remarkable. But all evidence points to demand being stronger still. I would define 'good enough' being a point where supply can meet demand, and that's not what we're seeing yet - supply is still trying to catch up to demand, even with all of the new construction in the city.

It also reminds me of the “let’s get rid of the old and push in the new” was responsible for so much devastation inflicted upon our cities in the 60’s. Jane Jacobs would be attacked as a NIMBYist these days.

It may remind you of that, but the two are completely different. Jane Jacobs was fighting against large-scale slum clearance and massive displacement from public works projects like urban expressways. Now, the growth we're discussing is large in scope, but due to the additive nature of many small changes in a city's built environment. It is a city being a city, growing and evolving as cities tend to do.

There's also the realization that cities are, by nature, dynamic places. Change is constant. We can't actively stop the demand for city living any more than we can prevent a child from growing. At some point, you need to buy him bigger clothes - or prepare for some awkward and uncomfortable situations.

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2013 10:15 am • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCit

>Im not teaching microecon 101<

by kob on Jul 30, 2013 10:17 am • linkreport

I'm all for new metrorail capacity, but we should remember that DC grew on the back of street cars when there where 200,000 more residents than today, so I wouldn't be dismissive of the street car's future in handling growth.

As to affordability, what should an affordable rent and housing cost be? Do we need price controls to maintain it or shall we let develpers flood the market with units? Housing crashes are great for affordability, prividing they don't take out your job market also.

If prices are going up, increasing supply might dampen the price surge, but won't actually lower it, if that's the goal. Why would a developer build only to lower his profit margin? No they go in to capture the current market rate, and if 10 more units go in across the street, they might step back.

When people say 'demand hasn't been met' are they including the working poor or do they just mean their out of college buddies that want to start a family downtown? There's a reason they established the current height limit. Why is the economic argument that much stronger now than 100 years ago, before Tysons, Bethesda, metro, and the internet?

by Thayer-D on Jul 30, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity:
"Yes, the street cars should relieve congestion at core metro stations, by providing an alternative for short distance riders to using the metro. Its not yet clear how well that strategy will work."

The District Dept. of Transportation needs to make ita priority to work with WMATA, MWCOG, and the neighboring regional govts to ensure that our streetcar investment has singifcant regional mobility benefits.

Others have pointed out at length the benefit of connecting the GA Ave streetcar route to Silver Spring. Similarly, a Wisc Ave streetcar route can connect Friendship Hts, Tenley, and the rest of the Wisc Ave corridor with Georgetown (which is a short bus ride/walk to Foggy Bottom and the West End) and possibly Rosslyn, potentially providing significant congestion relief on the Orange/Blue lines, Red line, and at Metro Ctr.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 30, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

There's a reason they established the current height limit.

Yes,the height limit was in response to one building. Mainly it was for fire fighting reasons.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Height_of_Buildings_Act_of_1899

The NCPC and other things came along later. We're well past the actual reasons for why it was passed so I think we're good to consider a whole host of other factors.

by drumz on Jul 30, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

Kob,

Certainly NYC can't control its housing prices, rent control aside. The only thing that will significantly impact DC's housing prices, IMHO, is a decline or reversal in DC's population growth, and the perception that employment opportunities are declining.

Those are the things that aren't equal.

by drumz on Jul 30, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

Richard L - It doesn't make sense to do both a separated Yellow Line and a separated Blue Line. You get no more capacity across the Potomac than you get from one of them. (Once you have two fully utilized crossings of the river, the choke points become the Orange/Silver and Blue/Yellow lines in Virginia and adding another river crossing doesn't buy more capacity unless you build a new line in Virginia.)

We need one of them to address two crucial transit choke points - river crossings, and access to Union Station. The choice needs to be coordinated with land use planning.

What comes after that is unlikely to come for quite a while, and there is a lot more room for free thinking about it. But it would be premature to change land use rules now in anticipation of something so far down the road.

by Ben Ross on Jul 30, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

I'm all for new metrorail capacity, but we should remember that DC grew on the back of street cars when there where 200,000 more residents than today, so I wouldn't be dismissive of the street car's future in handling growth.

Yes. Also, we should remember that transit ridership increases with density to a point, and the relationship then levels off as additional density does not add to transit ridership.

Why? Once you get to that level of density, many of the trips that otherwise would require transit can be accomplished by walking, as you now have the density in the immediate area to support more stores, jobs, etc. In otherwords, building densely alone can increase the accessibility of the place without necessarily needing to increase the mobility.

You can see the pattern in MWCOG's regional travel surveys in targeted areas. They targeted Logan Circle (generously defined): http://www.mwcog.org/uploads/committee-documents/Zl1eVltX20120418133500.pdf

56% of all daily trips were walking trips. That's the power of density.

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

Richard L - It doesn't make sense to do both a separated Yellow Line and a separated Blue Line.

Yes it does - because you have to think in the longer term, and you have to think about other choke points in the system as well.

The Potomac isn't the only major river in the area. Right now, everyone knows about the crowding on the Orange line - but the southern portion of the Green line sees very high levels of peak car loads as well. Separating Yellow and Green in DC is the only way, long term, to max out the throughput capacity of the full length of the Green line.

Nonetheless, we shouldn't think of Metro expansion as a prerequisite for additional height and density in DC, but rather as the opposite - that kind of increased land value and development and density will be what helps to justify and finance the expansions of core capacity for the system.

by Alex B. on Jul 30, 2013 10:33 am • linkreport

Just to add onto Alex's point, most people (that I know) within DC commute by bus or biking or walking so adding residential density won't likely overtax the peak direction metro and if anything will add some off peak travel as people head to VA and MD.

by Alan B. on Jul 30, 2013 10:37 am • linkreport

"As to affordability, what should an affordable rent and housing cost be?"

The rent for a new unit should be close to the cost to construct it - without a huge premium for the land. Or rather the premium for the land should reflect inevitable scarcity, and not scarcity due to unwarranted restrictions on the density of its use.

" Do we need price controls to maintain it or shall we let develpers flood the market with units?"

price controls will hold down prices, but will leave allocation by some form of rationing.

"Housing crashes are great for affordability, prividing they don't take out your job market also."

The DC job market is not based on construction. OTOH a job market crash in DC could lead to a housing crash. We are more like Manhattan than like Riverside California in that regard.

"If prices are going up, increasing supply might dampen the price surge, but won't actually lower it, if that's the goal."

Ceteris paribis again. It might be nice to lower it, but reducing the pace of rent increase is still desirable.

" Why would a developer build only to lower his profit margin?"

Because even as prices do down, he can still make a profit. Because A. There was enough profit at the old rents, even at say 5% lower, its still profitibale. B. because we have lowered the cost.

"When people say 'demand hasn't been met' are they including the working poor or do they just mean their out of college buddies that want to start a family downtown? "

I think they mean compared to what people could afford before demand began to surge. Or compared to what is affordable in some other metro areas of comparable size.

"There's a reason they established the current height limit."

What was that reason, exactly? What extensive studies of aeshetics, economincs, architecture, and sociology lay behind it?

" Why is the economic argument that much stronger now than 100 years ago, before Tysons, Bethesda, metro, and the internet?"

Because greater DC in 1910 wasnt a metro area of over 5 million people, sprawling from the chesapeake bay to the blue ridge.

DCs population in 1910 was 331,000. Add 19,000 or so for Alexandria and Arlington, for a round 350,000. If there are any metro areas with that population now, I think the height limits in DC might well be appropriate for them.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

I would like to see a study examining the impact that raising the height limit in the District would have on the rest of the region. Perhaps the additional density that could be accommodated in DC wouldn't effect economic development in the surrounding jurisdictions, but it could, and that should be factored into decision making. This region needs to think more about itself as a region and examine the impacts of decisions being made on all of the area, not just DC.

by Lisa R on Jul 30, 2013 10:40 am • linkreport

Save the trees and kill this movement.

DC should grow in the wallets of the homeowners.

by NE John on Jul 30, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

@Alex B:

You're point about the benefits of density providing more accessiblity and making walking feasible are very well taken. You also mention high ridership on the southern portion of the Green line. To what extent will: 1) moving jobs east of the river, and 2) the Anacostia streetcar route alleviate this and provide an alternative to metro-rail?

by 202_cyclist on Jul 30, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

"Because even as prices do down, he can still make a profit."

Exactly, so why all the tears for the profit they are missing out on loosing another 3-5 stories? When I couldn't afford Dupont, I moved to Logan. I can't afford that now (plus kids) so I moved to Silver Spring. I just don't get how that isn't the market working. Had they built 50 foot towers to get me to stay, I'd have left anyway, cause I like many, don't want to live in Honk Kong.

"I think they mean compared to what people could afford before demand began to surge. Or compared to what is affordable in some other metro areas of comparable size."

I get it, so if I can have a 12 room mansion in downtown Kansas City, why can't I have it here!

"Because greater DC in 1910 wasnt a metro area of over 5 million people, sprawling from the chesapeake bay to the blue ridge."

So why exactly do we want to keep piling up most of our density in the downtown? I'm assuming St. Paul choked off Minneapolises potential or Oakland hurt San Francisco. I mean, just look at how Brooklyn sipnoned off all those potential Manhattenites. Damn those street cars!

@ drumz
"We're well past the actual reasons for why (the height limit) was passed so I think we're good to consider a whole host of other factors"

"I'm not saying (peoples) concerns aren't valid, but I'm looking for the substantive differences on the street between a 10 story canyon wall vs one that's higher. I don't really see it"

so becasue you don't see it, it's not an issue.

by Thayer-D on Jul 30, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

AWITC/Ben R. -- the separated blue line is about maintaining the economic primacy of Downtown DC. That's completely different from separation issues for the other lines. This is about the central, the others are about "local" service within the city.

And as Ben points out, adding another line of service to Union Station, which is the only way that Amtrak's expansion plan can be realized.

A separated yellow line probably doesn't provide expansion capacity for Union Station service to the areas where we need it to be. Hence the focus on the blue line separation. (Actually I would make it the Silver Line now, as an extension into DC and have the current routing just be the orange line, with a blue line shuttle terminating at Rosslyn for people who want to go up to Tysons etc.)

Speaking of polycentricity... the point of a separated yellow line for me has absolutely nothing to do with Virginia, nothing.

It's about providing more transit capacity between L'Enfant Plaza station and Silver Spring within DC, probably in the Georgia Avenue corridor (+ adding a station to serve the National Mall around the Jefferson Memorial).

Over the long term, 50 years probably, it would lead to an intensification along Georgia Avenue, not unlike what has happened along the Wilson Blvd. corridor in Arlington. At some point, I'll be deceased and won't have to deal with the planning repercussions of this.

If MoCo wants to extend the yellow/green line into MoCo that's fine, but not my priority. The problem is that intensification-wise, it makes more sense to do it on New Hampshire Ave., which already has big buildings up to University Blvd., but plans to add significant development in the White Oak area. By comparison, adding yellow line service between Silver Spring and Wheaton could lead to some intensification, but not all that much. MoCo could still do it though, as there are advantages to redundancy.

That's great for MoCo, but a NH routing in-city doesn't add much. That's why I suggest a new green line routing from Fort Totten, which could be a "branch" not unlike how it works between Springfield and Franconia on the WMATA lines in Southern NoVA.

by Richard Layman on Jul 30, 2013 10:49 am • linkreport

+1 on Lisa R's point. That's what David's been asking for and what I was arguing the last time this whole discussion came up. This area works as a region, like it or not.

by Thayer-D on Jul 30, 2013 10:50 am • linkreport

"Why would a developer build only to lower his profit margin?"

Just to clarify - if there were only one developer, he wouldnt build to lower his profit margin, even if it was still profitable at the lower price. Monopolists have an incentive to hold back supply. But we have lots of developers who compete with each other - if one holds back to keep profits up, another will build, and the profit margins will decline anyway.

They could all try to collude to keep supply down, but aside from being illegal, such collusion is difficult to enforce and maintain.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 10:50 am • linkreport

Lisa R -- development in NoVA and the Maryland suburbs is not the responsibility of DC.

E.g., my joke that ec. dev. in Arlington is merely picking up the phone, or how in 2001 I told Bob Brosnan he should retitle his presentation at the NBM as "How to Kill DC".

They have what they have now because of a specific program of spreading federal agencies out of DC, for a variety of reasons, some cherrypicking, that results in part from the height limit, but also because of desires for big campus type settings, which DC can't provide, except at St. E east and west campuses, and part of AFRH.

by Richard Layman on Jul 30, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

"Because even as prices do down, he can still make a profit."
Exactly, so why all the tears for the profit they are missing out on loosing another 3-5 stories?"

The tears are not for the profit, but for the increased costs - which means in SOME locations, at some prices, housing will not be profitable to build at all, and will not get built.

" When I couldn't afford Dupont, I moved to Logan. I can't afford that now (plus kids) so I moved to Silver Spring."

And you raised rents in Silver Spring, which is now not affordable for some folks who could have afforded it before. The counter is that DTSS is now more desirable, and can support new construction. IE we get density by gentrifying. That is mentioned by DA. The question is, how much of that do we want?

" I just don't get how that isn't the market working.
Had they built 50 foot towers to get me to stay, I'd have left anyway, cause I like many, don't want to live in Honk Kong."

Its possible that in your case the market did work, and you were not impacted by the height limit. To say there are restrictions with a negative impact, does not mean the market doesnt work at all. Suppose Robert Moses had gotten his way and torn down the West Village - would that have meant folks would have fixed up Bed Stuy sooner? maybe.

BTW, AFAICT the commission is not supporting 500 ft heights (though perhaps Tom Cs reference to Docklands led to confusion) and is focused more on the CBD, on the Navy Yard, SW, etc, and not on Logan or Dupont Circle

"I think they mean compared to what people could afford before demand began to surge. Or compared to what is affordable in some other metro areas of comparable size."

"I get it, so if I can have a 12 room mansion in downtown Kansas City, why can't I have it here!"

I assume you mean a 12 room apartment. 12 room SFHs are limited by the geometry of land, an inevitable scarcity, not by a regulation. Are there 12 room apts in Kansas City? I was thinking more like rents comparable to Chicago or Philadelphia. I dont know the KC market at all.

"Because greater DC in 1910 wasnt a metro area of over 5 million people, sprawling from the chesapeake bay to the blue ridge."

"So why exactly do we want to keep piling up most of our density in the downtown?"

We arent and we wont. Even with a relaxation of the height limit there will be plenty built in other places. But there would be MORE built downtown - based on regs suitable for a metro area of 6 million, not one of less than 400k.

"I'm assuming St. Paul choked off Minneapolises potential or Oakland hurt San Francisco. I mean, just look at how Brooklyn sipnoned off all those potential Manhattenites. Damn those street cars!"

No one is suggesting that building in DTSS or Crystal city must choke off downtown DC. But that the height limit chokes off downtown DC. Would Manhattan or Minneapolis not have been choked off by height limits as restrictive as DC's? I think so.

As for SF, its restrictions on growth and hirises, have, IIUC, raised rents, and led to polycentricity and sprawl.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 11:03 am • linkreport

"Lisa R -- development in NoVA and the Maryland suburbs is not the responsibility of DC. " Technically true, but to plan on that basis would be irresponsible. Paris just gobbled up more than 3 times it's landmass for this very reason, economies of scale. Much like New York did 100 years ago, to coordinate activity better and not waste. Maybe NOVA should give back their piece of the diamond?
My pie in the sky idea is to have DC go back to Maryland.

Richmnond would never allow for either though. They love their rich liberal cousins around tas time. Ironic.

by Thayer-D on Jul 30, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

"And you raised rents in Silver Spring, which is now not affordable for some folks who could have afforded it before. The counter is that DTSS is now more desirable, and can support new construction. IE we get density by gentrifying. That is mentioned by DA. The question is, how much of that do we want?"

Danm right I raised the rents, cause I takes care of the house! On the one hand you keep talking about the market being held back and on the other hand you talk about "how much of that do we want?" Is this a Soviet poletbureau meeting? When taking care of your property and improving it is seen as messing with the market, I'm at a loss...

by Thayer-D on Jul 30, 2013 11:09 am • linkreport

"Danm right I raised the rents, cause I takes care of the house! On the one hand you keep talking about the market being held back and on the other hand you talk about "how much of that do we want?" Is this a Soviet poletbureau meeting? When taking care of your property and improving it is seen as messing with the market, I'm at a loss..."

When we impose a regulation, like the height limit, the market adapts by making other changes - like more gentrification. When discussing whether or not to keep the current height limit, and if we change, how to change it, it seems appropriate to look at the consequences of how the market adapted to it - and to consider if they are positive or negative.

You seem to have me confused with some kind of free market absolutist. Rest assured I am not. examining the consequences of the market is not being a soviet planner. its just, planning. Which is inevitable in an urban area. That I am not a free market absolutist, does not mean I cannot use the same technical economic analysis some free market economic absolutists like, in looking at the consequences of a particular regulation.

Again, I did not say that you were "messing with the market" What I said was that movement to other centers, that results from the height limit, has costs - including costs to poor people gentrified out of those other centers. I did not say that some of that wouldnt happen anyway, or that its wrong of people as individuals to do that, whether they are adapting to the height limit, or simply moving because they prefer that other center.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

"Richmnond would never allow for either though. They love their rich liberal cousins around tas time. Ironic."

Im sure the VA GOP would be delighted to lose Arlington and Alexandria. The Va Dems would not. And they would be joined by the national Dems, who would face the loss of Va at the presidential level and the loss of two Dem Senators.

Had that been done 10 years ago, we would not have passed Obamacare.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 30, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

"You seem to have me confused with some kind of free market absolutist. Rest assured I am not."

Fair enough, but the way you weild the 'regulations kill' argument, I assumed you felt your level of market place manupulation was holier then others. For example...

"When we impose a regulation, like the height limit, the market adapts by making other changes - like more gentrification." The implication is that we need to abate gentrification and one way would be to allow for greater building heights. First of all, I'm not one of those lib's who thinks gentrification is a horrible thing. Looking at it from the sidewalk level, if I work hard and want to live in an attractive older neighborhood, why can't I? If I displace a "real" Washingtonian for having the gall to live how and where I want, then I'm not sure our understanding of cities is the same.

"movement to other centers, that results from the height limit, has costs - including costs to poor people gentrified out of those other centers." Again, when I moved to Silver Spring, is that becasue some rich person forced me out by buying a million dollar penthouse? Thankfully we do have poly-centers so there are other neighborhoods with great street life, which was my main requirements beyond schools and restaurants.

Again, let's be on the same page of fighting sprawl, as Krugman points out, it's environmental, social, and economic consequenses are not helping whatsoever.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/29/opinion/krugman-stranded-by-sprawl.html?_r=0
But if you are saying that some displacement would "happen anyway", why focus so intensly on the height regulation?

"Im sure the VA GOP would be delighted to lose Arlington and Alexandria." You might be right about that, but what's power without the money, in an unregulated market?

by Thayer-D on Jul 30, 2013 12:37 pm • linkreport

OMG. Why can't we let this rest? It is not going to happen.

But it *has already happened*. The city approved putting the zero point of the coming 10-story project on H Street NE at the crest of the overpass so its effective height with respect to its neighbors will be more like 14 stories. Maybe more, since some nearby streets are at a lower grade because the overpass used to be an underpass.'

Everyone recognizes that this was a subterfuge of the Height Act by the developer and Tregoning, so it should hardly be cited as precedent to raise the height limit.

by Sarah on Jul 30, 2013 12:39 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D: you're an architect, you must go to real estate conferences. Do you listen to what the suburban property developers say? Most of the Arlington developers are focused on cherry picking DC tenants. Similarly, the Silver Line expansion was created to make that part of NoVA cost-effective for federal office leases.

It's not like NoVA and MD developers are "planning" on a regional basis. Nor are the planners (other than how the wedges and corridors plan in MoCo is an extension of the 1950s-1960s NCPC planning to deconcentrate the federal presence somewhat).

It's fair to say I understand regionalism. But at the end of the day, because of the three separate jurisdictions, there is not one single jurisdictional higher authority (in this case, a "state") that can step in and enforce better, more regionalized planning. VA has its priorities (e.g., the recent entry here or in my blog about Dulles). Maryland has its priorities, which are difficult because of the pull between the Baltimore metro and Maryland's DC suburbs. (A colleague in MoCo refers to MoCo as Maryland's ATM.) Not to mention the rural-urban divide. It's not like VA and MD legislators go out of their way to help DC (Tom Davis was a bit of an exception; Steny Hoyer's concern about S. Capitol Street is probably more from its use as an entrypoint into the city from his Southern Maryland constitutents).

Sure I wish that we had true regional transpo. planning (I've argued for it for years). But we don't. And it's not likely to happen within my career lifetime.

In the meantime, it's DC's job to take care of itself.

2. wrt retrocession, I don't favor it. In the current situation, DC keeps all of its tax revenues. That's better than dealing with the Maryland legislature, one or two congressional reps, and a couple of Senators.

3. Would I like ArCo and Alexandria to come back to DC. Sure. Would I do that at the cost of VA becoming more Republican, probably. It would be the job of the Democrats to figure out how to compensate.

Of course, it won't happen. But it's an interesting hypothetical.

by Richard Layman on Jul 30, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

"The implication is that we need to abate gentrification and one way would be to allow for greater building heights. First of all, I'm not one of those lib's who thinks gentrification is a horrible thing."

I don't think its a horrible thing. I think it has benefits and it has costs. And that some of the costs are exacerbated by the current rapid pace. And that those should be considered when looking at the height limit. Does that mean we MUST end the height limit, because of eevil gentrification. No, it does not. It could be that ending the height limit would lead to the loss of important views, for example. I wouldnt in that case abolish it because it led to gentrification.

I am very wary however, of arguments that DC should keep the current height limit, precisely BECAUSE it leads to more gentrification. Gentrification may not be horrible, but I do not think its such a good thing that it warrents keeping in place a policy that we wouldnt keep in place otherwise.

"But if you are saying that some displacement would "happen anyway", why focus so intensly on the height regulation?"

Because it increases the pace of displacement, just as it increases housing costs. and with offsetting benefits that I find unpersuasive.

""Im sure the VA GOP would be delighted to lose Arlington and Alexandria." You might be right about that, but what's power without the money, in an unregulated market"

Va without Arlington and Alexandria would still have plenty of money. And there are plenty of policy decisions at issue in Va - its far from an unregulated market. And again, that there are some govt interventions in any market, does not mean that economic analysis of particular regulations can be dismissed, as you seem to think.

by SensibleScofflaws on Jul 30, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

At the heart of the height limit dilemma is change. Will raising the height of buildings change DC?

If the height change is considerable, then, yes, DC will change from what it is today.

But if we only have a modest lifting of the limit, DC will pretty much remain as it is.

What has yet to be determined is the height limit's sweet spot. What is optimum percent to raise height without bringing forth a significant change to the city's wonderful character and charm.

by Sage on Jul 30, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

I don't think the height limit should be extended until the more of the city is developed. When I see homes in places like Anacostia being built out and parts of NE then it has to wait until the need is truly there. Right now people are just trying to squeeze into NW, for what ever reason, and don't want to go to other sections of the city. Go up when we can't go out any further

by mona on Jul 30, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

There is lots of development happening in all quadrants of the city. The Coast Guard just opened a whole new HQ right up the street from Anacostia.

by drumz on Jul 30, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

I would be all for delaying the height limit debate till city, and the metro stations, were more built out. I see the logic for waiting.

Except - there are places downtown that will be redeveloped soon. If we build them at the current limit, it won't be easy to redevelop them again 40 ft taller in ten years.

I am particularly concerned about the infill sites in the SW eco district - an area convenient to 4 metro lines and to commuter rail, with few "historic fabric" reasons for keeping the height limit. To miss the chance to add more density there, in order to accelerate gentrification in Deanwood, or Landover, seems like a mistake to me.

by AWalkerInTheCiy on Jul 30, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

Mona, why stop at Anacostia? Baffin Island is almost completely unpopulated. Until I see every acre of it built out, I see no reason to build taller anywhere else in the world.

by David C on Jul 30, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

David C -- what about global warming? Maybe it's not a sound place to build out right now? cf. Doha. cf. "cultural landscape preservation" ... :^)

by Richard Layman on Jul 30, 2013 6:09 pm • linkreport

I always hear people mention rent lowering with raising the height limit or more developments but I have not seen a single case of rent being lowered at all for any place i have lived all over the world. I have had many rents go up but never lower.

by kk on Jul 31, 2013 1:45 am • linkreport

@kk-- that is probably because demand was increasing as well. It is simple economics-- if you increase the supply of a good/service while holding everything else constant, price will decrease.

by 202_cyclist on Jul 31, 2013 7:28 am • linkreport

kk -- the impact on rents happens over decades. And all new construction is almost always priced at the top of the market. Read the chapter on why a "large stock of old buildings" is one of the key elements to great cities in _Death and Life of the Great American City_.

The effect on rent is particularly pronounced for commercial office space. It's why tenants that don't absolutely need to be located in DC have been displaced to suburban locations, and why "old buildings" that have lower carrying costs have been torn down to make way for Class A buildings that can get the highest rents.

Basically you have law firms, contractors, trade associations, lobbying firms, etc. taking up most of the commercial space.

This wouldn't have happened had the building heights been able to be higher. Many smaller older buildings would have been maintained.

FWIW, I argue that wrt to my arguments wrt why the height limit should be punctured, it will take upwards of 50 years to see the full economic impact.

I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for low rents.

by Richard Layman on Jul 31, 2013 9:37 am • linkreport

plus its inflation.

If over decades the price of some particular good increases by say 10%, and the overall level of prices and wages increases by 80%, then what economists call the "real" or inflation adjusted price has gone down, even though the nominal price has not. Very few nominal prices of anything ever go down,except for commodities (where price downward stickiness is not a factor) and electronics (where the huge real downward price movement is capable of overcoming downward price stickiness).

In the RE industry, rather than cut rents, they will offer move in specials. Of course an existing tenant doesnt see those.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jul 31, 2013 9:48 am • linkreport

On behalf of NCPC and DCOP, we appreciate all of these great comments and keep them coming. To formally log your ideas in the public record I encourage you to send us your thoughts directly via the Height Master Plan website (www.ncpc.gov/heightstudy). Additionally, attend an upcoming phase 2 public meeting (August 3-13). Our next session is this Saturday at 10:30 AM at the Tenley-Friendship Library. We met many of you back in late-Spring at our phase 1 public meeting series and we look forward to hearing from additional voices as part of phase 2 in weeks ahead.

We've also posted a summary of the economic feasibility analysis and modeling study online. We'll have more materials and imagery related to the modeling study going live later this week. www.ncpc.gov/heightstudy

by William Herbig on Jul 31, 2013 10:06 am • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris

La Defense is not in Paris...it's a fringe suburb like Silver Spring...but, the city of Paris has its own share of high rises that surpass 300 feet...

@202_cyclist
Don't forget all of the smokestacks that breach the height limit. I'd rather architecturally significant buildings dominate the sky instead of radio towers and smokestacks.

by Burd on Jul 31, 2013 11:11 am • linkreport

@Rich: High-rises can be attractive at street level -- for a local example, how about Carlyle? -- but you've cherry-picked a few small examples of 1980s development that occurred when architects had no idea how to do so. And yes, I mean small: individually, Rosslyn and Bethesda are about as big as NoMa. Having contiguous density, as in downtown DC, makes a huge difference in terms of street life and retail amenities.

"The supply and demand argument" is the basic postulate of economics. What evidence does it need? Cherry-picking locations where amenities, brought by high residential density, have spurred increased demand (and where stringent local controls prevent additional construction) doesn't refute that postulate. Downtown Chicago added 50,000 people in the past decade, and yet high-rise condo prices have gone nowhere because it also built enough high-rises to meet that demand. Silver Spring or Skyline/Bailey's Crossroads are local areas where rents have remained relatively moderate because lots of supply matches demand. High-rise construction is relatively expensive, but it's a symptom of high prices, not a cause.

by Payton on Jul 31, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

@AWITC: Zoning reform will probably raise height limits in NoMa/Southwest EcoDistrict from 90' to 130'. But yeah, 160' heights along L'Enfant Promenade wouldn't faze anyone: that street's wider than Pennsylvania Avenue.

by Payton on Jul 31, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

@ Mr. Alpert

Yes, DC needs to raise it's height limits in some area clusters around the city. For example: if some developer wanted to build a beautiful narrow residential tower of 260'at Walter Reed. Who would object?(NIMBYs) Imagine views of Rock Creek Park canopy of trees, the Capitol and so on. DC needs responsible targeted height increases.

Maintaining the existing Height Act for DC would just put pressure on the surrounding counties.

by Who Dat? on Aug 3, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

For everyone touting the benefits of the streetcar on density: as long as it's still running in mixed traffic - an absolutely myopic, asinine decision - there's a pretty hard ceiling on how much denser the development can get. H Street is redeveloping but you don't see even a 5-story building on the commercial corridor.

Be smart and make it light rail with its own right-of-way, however, and now you might be onto something.

by MetroDerp on Aug 5, 2013 6:57 am • linkreport

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