Greater Greater Washington

DC planners want height limit that's targeted, not blunt

The DC Office of Planning (OP) suggests replacing the blunt citywide height limit with more targeted rules that would slightly increase heights downtown, and give DC the option to allow taller buildings elsewhere.

Under the proposal, the existing federal height limit would only apply to the L'Enfant City, and would change to allow modestly taller buildings. Elsewhere, DC would set its own limits using the local zoning process, which already requires federal and public input.


DC's skyline today. Photo by the DC Office of Planning.

In many parts of DC, the zoning code already restricts height more than federal law, so this would result in no change for those areas. But for other peripheral neighborhoods, especially near Metro stations, it could potentially allow taller buildings.

Even so, it would take long public processes to rezone any land for taller buildings. To do so, the change would first have to be part of the District's Comprehensive Plan. After that, the Zoning Commission has to approve specific new zoning. At each stage there are opportunities for public feedback, and 2 of 5 members on the Zoning Commission are federal appointees.

Within the L'Enfant city, the report recommends modifying the height limit to allow slightly taller buildings. The current height limit restricts buildings to the width of the street plus 20 feet. OP recommends changing that to be simply 125% the width of the street.

In practice that's a very modest increase. Pennsylvania Avenue is 160 feet wide, so its height limit is currently 180 feet. Under OP's 125% proposal, it would rise to 200 feet.

OP's report follows a National Capital Area Planning Commission (NCPC) study of the issue. NCPC's own recommendations earlier this month called for similar but more modest changes.

For downtown DC, NCPC recommended allowing humans to use mechanical penthouses, which would effectively raise the height limit by one floor, as long as there are setbacks. Outside downtown, NCPC suggested further study but not yet any action.

OP argues that ensuring the economic stability and vitality of the capital city is a compelling federal interest, and reason to modify the height limit.

The ultimate decision will rest with Congress, which passed the original height limit law and is the only body which can change it.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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"Pennsylvania Avenue is 160 feet wide, so its height limit is currently 180 feet. Under OP's 125% proposal, it would rise to 200 feet."

Not quite. The Height Act of 1910 caps the height on those few blocks north of Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and Capitol at 160 feet regardless of street width.

by Adam L on Sep 25, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

The Ministry of Truth -- Minitrue, in Newspeak -- was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

by charlie on Sep 25, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

I am on board with the 125% rule, however wouldn't that lower the height limit for any buildings on streets with a width smaller than 80 feet?

by Dave Murphy on Sep 25, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

@charlie:

Tall buildings = fascism. You heard it here first, folks.

by ImThat1Guy on Sep 25, 2013 4:45 pm • linkreport

The plan makes sense to me.

by ceefer66 on Sep 25, 2013 5:06 pm • linkreport

I don't like this plan. People think taller buildings bring cheaper housing, but it doesn't. Most skyscraper buildings are for office space only which not only would ruin DC aesthetic, but also makes the area more lifeless.

by Tyler on Sep 25, 2013 5:29 pm • linkreport

How did it take six comments before anyone made the argument that increasing supply doesn't lower prices?

And only in DC would a 200' building be considered a skyscraper...

by Gray on Sep 25, 2013 5:36 pm • linkreport

More people in a smaller space makes the place feel more lifeless. How does that work?

by Another Nick on Sep 25, 2013 5:56 pm • linkreport

I like this plan. It seems reasonable. When can we vote on it? I vote "yes, please!"

Hopefully we'll trade the opportunity to build taller buildings downtown in exchange for specific things that we need down there (like grocery stores, residential space, and a transit tax). More office space is OK, but more residents would be better. It would be nice to have some families downtown, too, but I don't think anything will make that happen.

by Steven H on Sep 25, 2013 6:41 pm • linkreport

"I don't like this plan. People think taller buildings bring cheaper housing, but it doesn't. Most skyscraper buildings are for office space only which not only would ruin DC aesthetic, but also makes the area more lifeless. "
-----

Ummmm, where in the Plan is there any mention of allowing skyscrapers?

by ceefer66 on Sep 25, 2013 8:06 pm • linkreport

"It would be nice to have some families downtown, too, but I don't think anything will make that happen."

There are families living downtown right now.

http://downtowndckids.org

by revitalizer on Sep 25, 2013 8:37 pm • linkreport

Great, I think this is a very sensible measured approach. I don't think it's a huge short term issue but I would love tosee DC get Congress off our backs so we can adequately plan for the 30/50/100 horizons.

by BTA on Sep 26, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

It's not fascism. But it is a failure to understand why the NRA is so successful. DO NOT GIVE IN. "What's 20 feet?" I'll tell you, It's the first part of 50 feet, and the first part of 100 feet, etc.

The limit thing has worked just fine for over a century. Can't anyone in the current generation ever just leave good things alone and not mess it up for the next?

Developers have convinced the city that somehow elevator shafts and HVAC "rooms" do not count. How long will it be before "Well, the elevator/HVAC thing was OK then, but to meet the new blah blah blah we need 20 more feet."?

This city is unique. Can't we stop messing with it?

Also, is it fair to our neighbors in Roslyn? After all, they have served the market for ugly skyscrapers in this region pretty -- er, very -- effectively. Why steal their livelihood?

by Mike R on Sep 26, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

Well, define "fine". 100 years ago there was an Austrian and Ottoman empire and women couldn't vote yet. I think 100 years is plenty of time to go back and see if changes can be made.

How is the city less unique with 200' buildings? I'd say the fact that it's the nation's capital is a greater influence than the height of any building. Some cities may be defined by their height but certainly not all of them.

by drumz on Sep 26, 2013 10:43 am • linkreport

"fine" means that the developers have gotten rich, people like the city and it has worked very well. If it's not so much, why care at all about increasing it? Apparently people do not understand how things like the height limit are trashed. No one says "Scrap it," they say "just a teeeeeeeny change."

by Mike R on Sep 26, 2013 12:04 pm • linkreport

But what about past performance indicates that this will remain true? Or that changes won't be better than status quo? Can't developers get rich, people like the city, and have things work well under a different height limit?

by drumz on Sep 26, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

"But it is a failure to understand why the NRA is so successful."

Best self referential post of the day!!!

NRA won using the slipperly slope argument, so others should use the slippery slope argument.

I suggest we relax the height limit precisely to defeat the slippery slope argument - otherwise, surely, we will see the slippery slope argument applied to every policy discussion.

Heck, if we can get the height limits changed to the OP proposal, the next logical step will be sensible, moderate, gun control.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 26, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

@drumz No. Why risk it? We know what we have works. Aside from personal gain, why would anyone support this idea?

by Mike R on Sep 26, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

You're right, no one's ever built taller than 130' before. We can't possibly predict what will happen when we have buildings up to 200'. Maybe God never meant for us to reach so high.

by drumz on Sep 26, 2013 1:44 pm • linkreport

@drumz.
Correct. It's right there in Genesis 2443:1-3.

Seriously, isn't there ANYTHING we don't need to change. I am all about development. And when people coplain about construction, new supermarkets, malls, etc...I tell them move.

But the height limit is something that has been here a long time.

Most important, it is starting to sound like you have a personal interest in this.

by Mike R on Sep 26, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

"Personal interest"

!=Financial interest (except that maybe I'd like to see overall housing prices continue to be so high relative to the rest of the country).

But it's a fundamentally unreasonable position to say that there isn't even any reason to consider alternatives.

by drumz on Sep 26, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

Unreasonable?
So, you want people are certain with what they want to give in before it even starts. Look, the big advocate for this a few years ago ended up being one of the nation's largest real estate developers. How did WaPo list him: "Brookings Fellow."

Home prices in DC are doing just fine. And the height limit was effectively raised when they started letting people live in HVAC rooms. Isn't that an increase?

by Mike R on Sep 26, 2013 2:10 pm • linkreport

I had a typo. I "don't" want to see prices remain so high.

by drumz on Sep 26, 2013 2:12 pm • linkreport

We know what we have works. Aside from personal gain, why would anyone support this idea?

Define "works". We made life work before we had cell phones and the internet, but now things are better. Utilizing 100 years of structural engineering advances to make taller buildings would make things better also. Or can you name other technologies that DC should just choose to live without?

There are several reasons to support this that don't have to do with personal gain.

1. Allowing for taller buildings creates greater density. This makes investments in transit more valuable. It reduces energy use, makes for walkable cities, etc... Density is, after all, the reason cities exist. You might as well be asking "who would support building cities?"

2. The height limit has led to a squatty, boxy look along major commercial corridors.

3. Limiting height is another way of limiting supply. This drives up the cost of everything. Hotel rooms in downtown DC are very expensive compared to other cities, for example. Since many of those hotel rooms are booked by the US government for federal employees on travel it actually means it costs taxpayer money to support the height limit. More supply in apartments would mean that more people can live near work, which is good for the environment, reduces the need to expand our transportation network, and makes for happier people. More supply in office space downtown would drive down the cost of office space - much of it rented by the federal government - again driving down costs to taxpayers.

4. For the sake of individual freedoms we should limit regulations to those for which we can make a convincing argument as to their need. So it makes sense to require fire escapes and access for those with disabilities, but it would not make sense to require every hotel to have a fish tank. Really, the onus is on those who support the height limit to justify it.

But really, these answers are all pretty easy to find. Are you just not interested in looking for other reasons or are you new to the debate?

by David C on Sep 26, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

Seriously, isn't there ANYTHING we don't need to change.

Perhaps, but this isn't it.

But the height limit is something that has been here a long time.

Slavery was here a long time too. If that's the best defense of the height limit you can make, then you've already lost.

Home prices in DC are doing just fine.

What about hotel prices? What about office prices? What about all the people who want to live downtown but who can not? If you're going to defend the status quo then defend it, but so far that hasn't happened.

by David C on Sep 26, 2013 2:47 pm • linkreport

"We made life work before we had cell phones and the internet, but now things are better." Much better. Imagine life before cars! All those pesky street cars and walking. What would I do with my gym membership?

1. Allowing for taller buildings creates greater density.
What is too high in your opinion and why?

2. The height limit has led to a squatty, boxy look along major commercial corridors." Wrong, crappy architecture leads to crappy looking streets. Do you think Hausman's Paris is squatty and boxy?

3. In any healthy market there are ups and downs in supply. Why just a few years ago in the depth of the bust they where complaining about too many condo's in the pipe line.

4. Height limit's are un-American. Que the national anthem.

Actually, the onus is on those who want to change the law, and so far there hasn't been one good argument.

"What about all the people who want to live downtown but who can not?" I want to live in Dupont Circle. I love the charm and human scale. Then tear it down and build highrises! Opps, I'd rather live in Georgetown now. Call in the bulldozers, this is America dammit,I have my rights!

by Thayer-D on Sep 26, 2013 3:09 pm • linkreport

@Thayer-D
Thank you for articulating my similar thoughts so well.

by Michael R. on Sep 26, 2013 3:15 pm • linkreport

What is too high in your opinion and why?
The question should be why should we restrict this building's height rather than why should we let it break a limit.

"What about all the people who want to live downtown but who can not?" I want to live in Dupont Circle. I love the charm and human scale. Then tear it down and build highrises! Opps, I'd rather live in Georgetown now. Call in the bulldozers, this is America dammit,I have my rights!

But you say you'd rather replace a lot of the city's 2-4 story structures with taller ones. Maybe just Dupont or Georgetown then? Neither of which are really downtown anyway.

by drumz on Sep 26, 2013 3:23 pm • linkreport

"The question should be why should we restrict this building's height" For the same reason height limits have been imposed through out history, to preserve the quality of a street. You might not care for it, but many others do.

"But you say you'd rather replace a lot of the city's 2-4 story structures with taller ones" Yes, I would, just not the really beautiful and historic ones. We've been over this many times before. Plus, downtown's grow outward, and if it wheren't for preservationists , the West End would have torn right through those two neighborhoods. That's why SW,. Noma, Truxton Circle etc. are good places to expand downtown and why having other centers develope would also be helpful with good transit. Mono-cultures in urban design aren't good, and there are limits to growth before the mix in mixed use becomes unsistainable. We need more residential in the office areas, and therefore more office in otherwise residential neighborhoods.

As a break to this incessant back and forth on height limits, I was just listening to a documentary on the importance of oil to WWII and how America was called upon to supply 6/7th of the Allies needs. My quess is this along with our trippled manufacturing capacity (Detriot) led to the government policies that depopulated our cities on tax payers dime, with highways and urban renewal. If there is no market, why then create one!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwfp09RR_DM

by Thayer-D on Sep 26, 2013 3:47 pm • linkreport

" Allowing for taller buildings creates greater density.
What is too high in your opinion and why?"

8 story buildings lining every single block of the L'enfant city would be. It would destroy the lovely, relaxed, bucolic yet urbanist feel of central DC's residential blocks.

"2. The height limit has led to a squatty, boxy look along major commercial corridors." Wrong, crappy architecture leads to crappy looking streets. Do you think Hausman's Paris is squatty and boxy?"

The height limit has not made DC look like that, and it will not.

"3. In any healthy market there are ups and downs in supply. Why just a few years ago in the depth of the bust they where complaining about too many condo's in the pipe line."

But constraints raise prices at both peaks and troughs. The keep the overall prices higher over the course of the cycle. With impact on affordability.

4. Height limit's are un-American. Que the national anthem.

Actually, the onus is on those who want to change the law, and so far there hasn't been one good argument.

The argument for is that it prevents individuals and firms from locating where they want to, as shown by prices. And that that leads to excess dispersal of jobs and residences, that has implications for energy use and the environment.

""What about all the people who want to live downtown but who can not?" I want to live in Dupont Circle. I love the charm and human scale. Then tear it down and build highrises! Opps, I'd rather live in Georgetown now. Call in the bulldozers, this is America dammit,I have my rights!"

Actually you are the one who has suggested changing the zoning that protects the charm and human scale of rowhouse blocks. But I would like to know where is the charm and human scale in SW eco district? Why is an 12 story building in Navy Yard more charming than an 18 story one?

If DC wants to preserve specific charming blocks of 12 story office buildings, they can do so - changing the federal restriction would still allow DC to up the height limit only on selected parcels.

Have you considered moving to Paris? It seems like you really, really want to live (and/or work) in a city that is all 6 - 8 story buildings - no "high rises" and no 2 story rowhouses.

I still dont get why the onus is on those who want to change the height limit, but not on those who want to densify all the bucolic blocks of DC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 26, 2013 3:48 pm • linkreport

"Yes, I would, just not the really beautiful and historic ones."

okay, now extend that to 12 story buildings - we can tear down the disasters and keep the beautiful and historic ones.

BTW, I would say that many blocks of wardman style 2 story rowhouses are bucolic and charming, if not as beautiful and historic as the victorians - and they are more affordable.

So - tear down Kingman Park, or tear down SW Ecodistrict?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 26, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

"For the same reason height limits have been imposed through out history, to preserve the quality of a street. You might not care for it, but many others do. "

I walked next to the Cairo the other day, and the quality of the street was just fine. And very few cities have limits as restrictive as this one.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 26, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

For the same reason height limits have been imposed through out history, to preserve the quality of a street. You might not care for it, but many others do.

And this is always brought up without specificity. Both in a DC only context (why are the 8 story buildings a better quality than the 20 story ones) and a larger one (somehow almost every other city has managed, either there height limits are very specific i.e. the rules in a city like London, or much more expansive anyway, i.e. philadelphia where their height limit was about 500 feet).

by drumz on Sep 26, 2013 3:53 pm • linkreport

"BTW, I would say that many blocks of wardman style 2 story rowhouses are bucolic and charming, if not as beautiful and historic as the victorians - and they are more affordable"

then fight to make them historic, or better yet, fight to make new development as charming as the older hoods.
I'll back you up but the discussion might bore you, again.

by Thayer-D on Sep 26, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

What is too high in your opinion and why?

What the market will absorb, because that maximizes utility. What is too high in your opinion and why?

Do you think Hausman's Paris is squatty and boxy?

Yes. But luckily Paris does allow tall buildings.

In any healthy market there are ups and downs in supply.

I don't know what this has to do with anything. The point is that we are limiting supply and we are doing so because of the firefighting technology that existed 100 years ago. This seems unwise.

Height limit's are un-American.

Worse. They're unfair without a valid reason - which you have not supplied. You're response is a non-defense, I'll take it that you don't have an answer to this.

Actually, the onus is on those who want to change the law, and so far there hasn't been one good argument.

Well, I gave you four reasons. Whether they're good or not is a value call on your part. But you haven't given a single reason to keep the height limit. So that's 4-0 as I count it.

by David C on Sep 26, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

For the same reason height limits have been imposed through out history, to preserve the quality of a street.

But this isn't why DC's height limit was imposed.

by David C on Sep 26, 2013 3:57 pm • linkreport

Nor is it a big justification today. The talk about preserving views is for buildings far off. Not about the user experience at street level.

by drumz on Sep 26, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

"then fight to make them historic, or better yet, fight to make new development as charming as the older hoods.
I'll back you up but the discussion might bore you, again."

Then fight to make all those 12 story office buildings on K street historic.

But its not how charming the new development is. Its scale. 6 story apt buildings CAN be charming - and DC already has some of those. And its legal to build more of them (and I oppose things like parking minimums, etc that make it more difficult to build them). But to get a lot of new density you would need wholesale destruction of the wardmans, and I dont want that, because thats a part of the fabric worth preserving.

Now apply that to the height limit. Blocks with squat 12 story buildings add to the fabric of DC, and we SHOULD preserve some of them, and even build some more of them. BUT we should also have some 18 story buildings.

Then we would have a city with 2 story Wardmans, 6 story residential blocks that resembled paris, 12 story office buildings like the old DC, and some taller buildings. Thats not possible under the current law.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 26, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

"And only in DC would a 200' building be considered a skyscraper..."
----

And only in Dc is 10-story building called a "tower".

by ceefer66 on Sep 26, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

@DavidC
"Limiting height is another way of limiting supply. This drives up the cost of everything. Hotel rooms in downtown DC are very expensive compared to other cities, for example. Since many of those hotel rooms are booked by the US government for federal employees on travel it actually means it costs taxpayer money to support the height limit. "
------

A very astute observation that we haven't heard yet.

And very true.

Thanks.

by ceefer66 on Sep 26, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

What is too high in your opinion and why? "Whatever tha market will absorb." Sorry David, but that's a duck. The market can absorb many things when left unchecked, like carbon emmissions, liquor sales, seat beltless cars...

So you think Hausman's Paris is squatty and boxy? "But luckily Paris does allow tall buildings." Ok.

"The point is that we are limiting supply" Many things limit supply, like zoning, which keeps apartment blocks from springing up in the middle of AU park. Do you really want to go down that road?

"Worse. They're unfair without a valid reason - which you have not supplied." I'll say it again. It's too keep a descent amount of light and air down to the street level. Why have height restrictions on any street if you are questioning them in downtown?

Ultimatly, the final height could be 200' or maybe 250', I don't think that will destroy our fair city, but the question is, what is too much and why? According to you, the only barrier is the market, so in theory we could have 100 story buildings as long as the market can bear it. Yet there are 10 different ways to make a dollar. No builder will walk away from a customer/potential dollar becasue of some pesky regulation. In my industry, when they imposed the lead testing requirements, many belly ached becasue it limit's the supply by imposing additional costs on building, that push some out. Yet people still build, just like if they raised the cost of milk becasue of the cost of keeping factories away from dairy farms. I'm still going to pay for the milk and actually be happy I won't poison my kids. Everything has a cost, yet society balances those with other things that would inquire another cost.

Maybe it would be useful to put this question out to a referendum to see what the general public thought. No limits on the market vs. some limits. Becasue if you aren't against some limits like say, zoning, then it's just a matter of degrees and not a matter of "whatever the market can bear" or against anything that "limit's the supply". Through out civilization, there have been limits to what the public can do, especially when living in a compact urban environment. Like the rules in a soccer game, you may not like some as I also don't, but we all must compromise to play a fair game.

If you're truly against height limit's becasue it artificially reduces supply, would you be for eliminating ceiling heights through-out the city? If not, how would you justify "limiting supply" in less dense residential neighborhoods?

by Thayer-D on Sep 27, 2013 6:57 am • linkreport

The market can absorb many things when left unchecked, like carbon emmissions, liquor sales, seat beltless cars...

Ok, why are tall buildings on the list though?

by drumz on Sep 27, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

"According to you, the only barrier is the market, so in theory we could have 100 story buildings as long as the market can bear it"

Why can't we just debate the actual proposal on the table. It does sound like gun control. Someone proposes a waiting period, or a ban on a specific type of weapon, and everyone debates the costs and benefits of gun ownership in general. Someone proposes a bike share system, and people debate red light running and the nature of the automobile. Like WTF?

You said SOMEWHERE above that the current proposal from OP makes sense. So I dont' understand the point of this argument. What do I think the best height limit ultimately should be? I don't know. Its not relevant, because what I think it optimal is probably higher than anything that will be politically feasible in my lifetime. It will probably take several years to get OPs proposal implemented - between congress passing it, and then debating implementation schemes (should develpers pay for extra height concessions via $$ for transit, or via affordable units - THAT could be debated for a couple of years, with tremendous bitterness). It probably then won't be touched again in a generation. Let 2050 decide what to do in 2050.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 27, 2013 9:49 am • linkreport

that's a duck

I don't see how, but I'll clarify. The default position should be that the market decides. There is a natural limit on building height based on economics and technology. It's the reason the tallest building in the US was built in the 70's (unless you count the new tower in New York). Building above a certain height just isn't economical and is mostly done for reasons of prestige.

Certain regulations along this line do make sense. Flight paths should be protected. Geological concerns need to be addressed (I once heard that New York City has a total weight limit in Manhattan so that if you want to build something you need to remove an equal amount of building material somewhere else. Not sure if that's true though). Etc... Even view-sheds make sense.

What doesn't make sense is setting the limit based on the limits of firefighting technology in 1910 and then just leaving it there even as that technology improves.

The market can absorb many things when left unchecked, like carbon emmissions, liquor sales, seat beltless cars...

Uh....OK....what is your point. I'm OK with regulation. It just needs to make sense.

Many things limit supply, like zoning,

True, but you cherry picked my quote. The other part is relevant. Which is that we are limiting supply for a reason that is no longer valid. I'm Ok with limiting supply when we have a valid reason.

I'll say it again. It's too keep a descent amount of light and air down to the street level.

That's actually the first time you've said that.

I'm pretty sure buildings do not prevent air from getting to street level. And trees still grow in tree boxes in New York, so I'm pretty sure light is getting down there too. In the end this is an aesthetic claim, but I'm not sure there is consensus that tall buildings make a city ugly. DC is the only city in the world with a height limit this low.

the question is, what is too much and why?

One that you have not answered. If this is an aesthetic issue, what is the right height for a city that looks the way you want it to look and why? And is that the only height that works worldwide? Why does everyone else seem to love ugly buildings, putting them on art and t-shirts, etc...?

According to you, the only barrier is the market, so in theory we could have 100 story buildings as long as the market can bear it.

In some places, yes. But, again, I'm not against regulations. I think no regulations should be the default position until a good reason is found to regulate, just as I think freedom should be the default position until we have a good reason to limit freedom.

If you're truly against height limit's because it artificially reduces supply, would you be for eliminating ceiling heights through-out the city?

In principal, yes.

If not, how would you justify "limiting supply" in less dense residential neighborhoods?

On a case by case basis. Some buildings should be preserved for historic reasons. Some view-sheds should be retained. In some places building up should be limited for safety and security reasons, etc... A blanket height limit, though, can not be defended. Not even for aesthetic reasons.

by David C on Sep 27, 2013 9:59 am • linkreport

I am for the height limit. I think taller buildings will block more light at the street level. This will make the streets feel darker and colder downtown, where I live and work.

by sk on Sep 27, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

I am for the height limit. I think taller buildings will block more light at the street level. This will make the streets feel darker and colder downtown, where I live and work.
-------

Do you REALY think another 6-8 stories will make so much of a difference?

by ceefer66 on Sep 27, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

Yes, I think 6 to 8 stories would make a difference. I walk to East on M from 19 to 15 street to get to work at about 9. Starting about the middle of September, the buildings block the sun from reaching the ground. An additional 6-8 stories would push that earlier into the year, significantly.

by sk on Sep 27, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

Ok, but is that worth it considering the costs (prices stay high, development moves to Va/Md, mode share for transit is kept lower due to more development away fom metro)?

by drumz on Sep 27, 2013 8:29 pm • linkreport

You should also consider that buildings of any height have a maximum lot coverage to ensure that there's adequate light and air for the building tenants and the adjacent street.

by Thayer-D on Sep 27, 2013 8:49 pm • linkreport

I knew this developer once who wanted to make some money on the demand for housing in Dupont Circle back in 1998. He wanted to build a 200 unit building in 14 stories, but because of the height limit, he decided to build in Virginia. I told him about Logan Circle and how it was just another 3-4 blocks away, but he decided that was too risky. Too bad, because Logan Circle is beautiful.

by Thayer-D on Sep 27, 2013 8:57 pm • linkreport

Ok, but is that worth it considering the costs (prices stay high, development moves to Va/Md, mode share for transit is kept lower due to more development away fom metro)?
It's of course worth all of those costs so that this commenter can have a bit of sunshine for four blocks for a couple more months each year.

by Gray on Sep 27, 2013 9:20 pm • linkreport

At least the "sunny side of the street" concern has a metric that can be regulated. The minimum sun angle and the height of a building and the shadow it will cast is something we can easily model before a building is constructed.

Since this is an aesthetic thing, we could then "tax" the amount of sidewalk sun new buildings will block and use the money to support other aesthetic improvements. The money could support street trees, public art, trash removal, graffiti removal, historic preservation, etc... That becomes a win-win. Every building in this city shades a sidewalk at some point (and in the summer, I'm glad for it). If that's a negative externality, then let's tax it.

by David C on Sep 27, 2013 10:16 pm • linkreport

So now the much light a street or building receives is now an aesthetic concern? Thankfully, it can be measured, because without a metric, how could we value it? And since maximum allowable lot coverage ensures an adequate amount of light to a building and its surroundings, we could tax buildings on lot coverage. Think about how much money the city is leaving on the table because of the aesthetics of sunshine. All that money thrown away just because someone wanted some sunshine on their face.

by Thayer-D on Sep 28, 2013 6:54 am • linkreport

In today's Washington Post Magazine, there's and interesting article on Condo living in DC. For those pro taller buildings a quote in your favor (p26)

"With height restrictions in the District and buyers here favoring more conservative aesthetics (less light?), local buildings don't have the ultra-modern "wow factor" seen in flashier markets such as Miami and New York. But the high end finishes and indulgent amenities common in those cities are now in demand in Washington."

Does that mean if we had 20 story condo buildings, they could afford to be flashier?

In another interesting quote they say (p28)

"It's not so much the view people want, it's the light"

Having sold a condo in Logan circle, I'd concur. The strongest reaction I got was to the light.

To keep things in perspective though, we are arguing at the margins because in the end, most of us seem to want dense walkable cities with active street life.

by Thayer-D on Sep 28, 2013 8:42 am • linkreport

If the main concern is light on the street, couldn't we have taller buildings on north sides of streets?

If 130 feet is optimal for light, why do height limits in other cities that have height limits, allow taller buildings?

When someone stays indoors, because they live in unwalkable, unbikeable suburbs, because WUP's are too expensive, thats a bad outcome for folks who want people to be able to have the sun on their face.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 28, 2013 9:29 am • linkreport

Yes, I think 6 to 8 stories would make a difference. I walk to East on M from 19 to 15 street to get to work at about 9. Starting about the middle of September, the buildings block the sun from reaching the ground. An additional 6-8 stories would push that earlier into the year, significantly.
-------

Have you read the report?

Considering the height the ratio-based limits would allow for a narrow street like M street, I don't think anyone here believes your "doom and gloom" scenario would come to pass.

by ceefer66 on Sep 28, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

Some shadow isn't a bad thing.

And for all the favorable mentions of Paris, it's worth remembering that a great deal of those 6-8 story Parisian buildings front on much, much narrower streets and therefore cast much longer shadows in public space.

If the standard is that buildings shouldn't cast any shadow on public space, then that standard is fundamentally non-urban.

Likewise, if the concern is about the more ambiguous "light and air," then taller buildings with some spacing and setbacks of the tower elements can actually provide that far better than the blunt instrument of DC's current height limit.

by Alex B. on Sep 28, 2013 11:39 am • linkreport

@ Drumz –
I believe Thayer-D has raised the point, that it would be possible to increase heights/density in many neighborhoods that are close to metro, including capitol hill/Eastern Market, Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, U-Street. My understanding is that these areas are mostly residential/retail commercial. I also think this is the type of density the city needs to increase, rather than office commercial. Residential/retail is what is going to spur the demand for better transit service that serves DC residents. Additional office commercial space development is going to continue the pattern of development that encourages working in downtown and living in Virginia and Maryland. This kind of transit pattern, whether people are moving by metro or car seems inefficient and unsustainable to me. Therefore, I think it is much more valuable for people promoting urbanism to support development that will increases residential space and the retail space that provides the amenities that people want after work and on the weekend.
@ Gray
Your snark is entertaining. Keep up the good work!
@ David C
I just don’t think everything lends itself to being monetized and taxed that easily. Most fundamentally, there is the issue of valuating sun-light, what is the value of one square-foot hour of sunlight. Does this change in denser places, like downtown DC where more people benefit from the sunlight or is there in intrinsic value that can be determined by thinking about it long and hard?
Unfortunately, I don’t think this is something that can be done that easily. But if it could, sure sure, lets tax the developers or tenants that occupy buildings based on how much sun they block at the street level. The rate can be based on the difference between the hours they would be blocking the sunlight under current height limit and whatever the new height limit is multiplied by the democratically agreed upon value of an hour of sunlight at ground level.
@ A Walker in the City,
Extending the height limit on the north side of the street to the height where it will not cast a shadow beyond the building directly south of it (assuming that building is built to the height limit), seems like a good solution or compromise to me.
As to the optimal height of the building, I don’t know how other cities have determined their height limit or what factors that they were considering. They may not have been thinking about light at all, but other factors like what the infrastructure could support or what vested property owners in the area thought would be appropriate to maintain the value of their existing investments.
But just because they may not have considered the benefits of sunlight at street-level does not mean that we shouldn't.

@ceefer66
No I haven’t read the report. But my impression is that M street between 14th street and Foggy Bottom is about as wide if not wider than most down streets. As a result, if the limiting ratio (height of building to street width) wouldn’t allow for taller buildings on M street, I don’t think it would allow for taller buildings on many streets in downtown DC. But again, I haven’t read the report. I will try to catch up on that soon.

@ Alex B.
I never said that any shadow is unacceptable. I only said that the existing balance between height and light penetration seems to work. Furthermore, I don’t see a huge benefit from disrupting the current satus quo, because, as I mentioned above, I think DC needs a lot more residential/retail density rather than office space density. Based on the current development pattern, I think increasing the height limit downtown would skew towards increasing office space rather that the residential/retail space that is needed. Not only would this not promote increasing residential development, but it would further promote the lifestyle choices of living in the suburbs and commuting into the city. This would pressure the already burdened transit/highway capacity serving the suburbs and reinforce the already strong push to bolster that infrastructure, rather than investment in transit capacity in the D.C. core.

by sk on Sep 29, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

Sk,

I wa speaking broadly. I don't care what you put in the buildings just that we let tall buildings exist in the first place. Also, you want to build taller downtown because a: that's were demand is and B: that's where you already get the greater number of people downtown. Get people who want to get downtown and you'll see development in downtown adjacent neighborhood continue. It's not a zero sum game.

by drumz on Sep 29, 2013 12:59 pm • linkreport

I only said that the existing balance between height and light penetration seems to work.

Ok, if we assume that it does work, doesn't that benefit have to be balanced against other concerns? The city is growing; where should that growth occur? If not up, then where?

Fundamentally, the question of altering the height limit is one of shaping how we grow. And a key element of that is that saying 'no' to growth is not an option; the demand will still be there and still exert pressures on DC.

Based on the current development pattern, I think increasing the height limit downtown would skew towards increasing office space rather that the residential/retail space that is needed.

This is a valid concern, but not one that's particularly relevant to the height limit. The height limit does not control use; we have zoning that does that. And we have zoning incentives now to reduce office monocultures.

OP's case is essentially that there is a case to remove the constraint that the height act represents, and the next step would be a planning process for how to best use that additional capacity.

I would also point out that the fundamental advantage that additional density offers is that you can continue to add office space and residential space in the same area - you can both continue to grow and continue to diversify; that's something that density makes possible. Limit the allowed density and it's a lot harder to make that kind of diversity happen.

by Alex B. on Sep 29, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

I was not actually advocating a tax on sunlight blockage. I was just saying that IF sunlight blocking is a negative externality, we can fix that with a tax.

by David C on Sep 29, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

"extending the height limit on the north side of the street to the height where it will not cast a shadow beyond the building directly south of it (assuming that building is built to the height limit), seems like a good solution or compromise to me."

A building on the north side of a street will not cast any shadow on that street at all. It will only cast a shadow on the building to its north. I would think its possible to determine heights so that minimal (not necessarily zero) additional shadow would be cast on the building and street to the north.

"As to the optimal height of the building, I don’t know how other cities have determined their height limit or what factors that they were considering. They may not have been thinking about light at all,"

I think that most unlikely - issues of light are constantly referenced in zoning codes, IIUC. My sense is that they address light through setback and that while they value it, they do not give it infinite value.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 29, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

"that it would be possible to increase heights/density in many neighborhoods that are close to metro, including capitol hill/Eastern Market, "

development is happening quickly in that area on parking lots, marginal commercial properties, etc. There really arent that many more sq ft you can build there - too few buildable parcels. To get lots more sq ft you'd have to replace the 2 and 3 story rowhouses in that area with 6 story apt buildings. While Paris may work well, I am not sure I would like to see wholesale replacement of that type in DC, and I think it would be far less feasible politically than relaxing the height limit in a few places.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 29, 2013 3:44 pm • linkreport

"If the main concern is light on the street, couldn't we have taller buildings on north sides of streets? "

This seems emblematic to how we are talking past eachother, the engineer vs. the architect. What kind of cattywompus looking city would that look like with stilted views down streets?

"it's worth remembering that a great deal of those 6-8 story Parisian buildings front on much, much narrower streets and therefore cast much longer shadows in public space."

To say nothing of medeaval streets where the ratio must be even worse for shadows. Again, engineer vs. architect, where the engineer dosen't see/account for the fact that light reflected and sensed at a shorter cornice height with varigated limestone facades vs. walls of glass is qualitatively different. Also, how the human form can scale itself to a 4 or 8 or even 12 story building facade, but much beyond that and it becomes impossible.

Too touchy feely? Those are the kind of spacial relations designers take into account coupled with good drainage and a myriad of other practical considerations that make the difference between a good and a great street. Let's design with both numbers and as if people would inhabit cities.

My parable of the non-existent developer that drumz prophesized (development moves to Va/Md, if I don't get my way) has still not been answered. Development keeps moving to adjacent neighborhoods and the center shifts as new centers emerge. I wonder where we might look to find examples to inform us as to how cities managed growth before the advent of the steel frame or high speed transit?

And to say there are too few buildable parcels is to imagine DC as having the fabric of Barcelona, which is laughable. We've been over the list of areas DC could grow without the whole scale destruction of its 2-4 story fabric many times over. You frame it into an all or nothing proposition becasue, becasue who knows, but declaring something over and over again dosen't alter reality.

by Thayer-D on Sep 30, 2013 8:32 am • linkreport

Thayer-D, there probably is no example or a developer wanting to develop in DC and then moving to VA or MD instead, because that decision is made way outside of the public eye. But development does move to Virginia and Maryland. Rosslynn is the best example. It has tall buildings in it's downtown, and other than the higher height limit, there really is no reason to move one's HQ there, yet in 2008, CEB did just that. It picked up stakes in DC and moved into one of the taller buildings in Rosslynn.

DC still has many competitive advantages over Bethesda, College Park and Arlington, and the city will continue to develop. But that doesn't mean the height limits aren't sub-optimal.

We've been over the list of areas DC could grow without the whole scale destruction of its 2-4 story fabric many times over.

Growing away from the center means that everyone lives farther away from everything else. This means that everyone spends more time and money going to work, to dinner, to run errands, to go to baseball games etc... I fail to see how this makes a city more human scaled. Maybe architects should spend more time thinking about how people live then how light looks reflected off of limestone.

by David C on Sep 30, 2013 9:40 am • linkreport

"This seems emblematic to how we are talking past eachother, the engineer vs. the architect. What kind of cattywompus looking city would that look like with stilted views down streets?"

Architects do their best work subject to constraints, dont I recall hearing someone say that? And we are not talking about 12 stories on one side of the street and 70 stories on the other. It might be only a 3 story difference.

"My parable of the non-existent developer that drumz prophesized (development moves to Va/Md, if I don't get my way) has still not been answered. "

Office space users more, not because they didnt get their way, but because office rents are cheaper. Developers then build in response.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 9:51 am • linkreport

"We'vebeen over the list of areas DC could grow without the whole scale destruction of its 2-4 story fabric many times over"

and we've been over the fact that OP's analysis took into account most of those areas. The only ones that they didnt, that you think could accommodate significant amounts of new density, are the 2-4 story neighborhoods.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 9:52 am • linkreport

In any discussion of the height limit, there seems to be this straw man that current height restrictions have driven up rents such that private companies are going to MD or VA. There are a lot of factors that play into corporate (re)location decisions, but if a company is seeking close-in Class A space, Rosslyn and even Bethesda are just about as expensive as K St. (Re)location decisions are driven by lots of factors: tax incentives, cost, ease of doing business, location (including convenience to airports and highways), convenience to one's employee base and other amenities. While DC has improved over the dark days of the Barry Era, it's still considered much harder to do business there than in MD and VA. Sad to say, but for most companies, there's no cachet or reason to locate in downtown Washington. Big law firms still feel they need to be in DC, as do some lobbyists (although Rosslyn is just about as convenient), but some trade associations long ago started to de-camp from DC, particularly if the agencies they focus on (Pentagon, NIH) are not in the city. I speak from personal experience. I was involved in my employer's decision several years ago to stay in MD. As a DC resident, I would have loved a shorter commute, but there was no way that the company was going to move into DC, given the DC government's fickle bureaucratic reputation and the preference of our employees.

by Sarah on Sep 30, 2013 9:59 am • linkreport

And the fact that development has moved to MD and VA. Obviously absent a height limit its not like DC would have towers while Arlington would still be all farmland but we can already see the effects somewhat.

by drumz on Sep 30, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport

" but if a company is seeking close-in Class A space, Rosslyn and even Bethesda are just about as expensive as K St"

My understanding is that K street office rents average over $50 a square foot, and Rosslyn under $45.

And of course Rosslyn probably has the highest rents of any suburban submarket in the area.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

Thank you Sarah. Did Discorery move from Bethesda to Silver Spring becasue they couldn't build a 20 story tower in Bethesda? What Sarah said "There are a lot of factors that play into corporate (re)location decisions" is the truth of the matter.

"Growing away from the center means that everyone lives farther away from everything else. This means that everyone spends more time and money going to work, to dinner, to run errands, to go to baseball games etc... I fail to see how this makes a city more human scaled."

It might be helpful to avoid framing the issue in a simplistic and nonsensicle way. No one has been talking about growing "away" from the center, yet you keep throwing that out there. The larger cities become, the more centers they have and the wider the main centers become. It's a matter of scale, whether you're studying a building's facade or a city plan. Cleveland park used to be considered a suburb, but people in the suburbs today would consider it downtown. Considering you think that light is an aesthetic issue, I can see how you might be struggling with the concept of scale.

by Thayer-D on Sep 30, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D: I haven't been following this entire thread, but I would like to jump in regarding one point.

It can be said of pretty much anything that "there are a lot of factors." We economists tend to be seen as jerks for a lot of reasons, but one is that we often show up and point out the flaw in ignoring marginal analysis.

Holding everything else constant, the height limit definitely impacts corporate location decisions. That doesn't mean it's the only factor or that DC should look only at the Height Act and not at all of the other ways to impact those decisions. But the existence of other factors does not diminish the fact that relaxing height restrictions could have a significant effect on corporate location decisions.

by Gray on Sep 30, 2013 10:38 am • linkreport

what gray said. The question is, what is the impact of the policy at the margin? Does it mean more movement to the suburbs, and away from the center, THAN THERE OTHERWISE WOULD BE?

Surely it does - elsewhere Thayer has suggested that is a benefit of the current height act.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

I agree that not being able to build a 20 story tower might prompt some to move where they can, but then clearly location wasn't that much of a pull for them in the first place. This is what Sarah was pointing out. The tenants that need more space and can't move will simply rent more space or move into another building. But how many tenants are we talking about? Yes, hold everything constant, and that one factor seems pivotal, but everything else is as constant as the height limit, meaning it's constant until it isn't. Framing the question to get your desired result is fine, it's just not convincing.

Will the street cars currently being planned mean we will be "growing away from the center"? Yes, ergo street cars are bad. Holding everything else constant.

by Thayer-D on Sep 30, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

"agree that not being able to build a 20 story tower might prompt some to move where they can, but then clearly location wasn't that much of a pull for them in the first place."

IE they were the decision makers at the margin. You are correct, there are some decision makers who value a suburban location, and wont choose DC in either case. There are others who heavily value a DC location, and they will pay what it costs - they will outbid the ones whose value for a DC location is lower. The ones who have a preference for DC, but lower than the rent differential, will move. And that will mean less property tax revenue to DC, and (even for Rosslyn or Crystal City - a fortiori for other suburban locations) a higher SOV mode share.

As for street cars, they may well mean more development in the parts of DC they serve, and less in the suburbs hence they will be a net centralizing factor. They are unlikely to mean less development in the CBD, since as we have seen the CBD is approaching build out anyway. Any likely relaxation of the height limit would only delay that build out a few years, so the additional density in other parts of DC will be needed anyway (and of course the street cars will serve the CBD, increasing its accessibility advantages over the suburbs)

And lest anyone get confused, I am not opposed to higher density in Rosslyn or Crystal City. To the extent that growth in those places means less in more peripheral places beyond the beltway, its a good thing. Indeed, one problem for the region with employers shifting from DC to Rosslyn, is that Rosslyn itself has a build out envelope (thanks to National Airport) and that rising rents in Rosslyn would push some employers who would otherwise choose Rosslyn, out to more distant places with even higher SOV mode share. But thats a regional issue, and may be of less interest to the District.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 11:13 am • linkreport

"There are others who heavily value a DC location, and they will pay what it costs - they will outbid the ones whose value for a DC location is lower" But you assume that this means VA or MD when you have SW, Brentwood, Friendship Heights and many other locations they could move to. Look at NPR, they wanted the location but couldn't afford downtown, so they moved north.

"Any likely relaxation of the height limit would only delay that build out a few years, so the additional density in other parts of DC will be needed anyway" That's what I've been saying all along. That yes, we'd survive another 4-6 stories, but if we'll be hitting this wall yet again, how much economic sense does it make to re-build downtown every 20 years? And you acknowledge that build-out can and will happen in Rosslyn also, yet default to the conclusion that it would push people out further. What I've been saying is let's do a comprehensive plan that takes into account how to absorbe growth with-in the transit network (and future one) to capture the people who would otherwise be lurred by cheaper rents into the hinterlands, further degrading everyone's quality of life with more car trips.

"But thats a regional issue, and may be of less interest to the District." But it should be of interest to DC as New York's annexation of the outer boroughs or Paris's recent trippling in size shows. Our region has become extra large, and just becasue it's politically impossible for DC to anex parts of VA or MD, dosen't mean they shouldn't be planning for growth as it's actually occuring. Only then will we stimulate a market for more infill and central development to compete with the outlying areas. And if the science of climate change is to be believed, we'd do well to focus on a regional transit system that allows many centers to absorbe growth instead of paving over farms we might need sooner than later.

"e problem for the region with employers shifting from DC to Rosslyn, is that Rosslyn itself has a build out envelope (thanks to National Airport) and that rising rents in Rosslyn would push some employers who would otherwise choose Rosslyn"

by Thayer-D on Sep 30, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

"But you assume that this means VA or MD when you have SW, Brentwood, Friendship Heights and many other locations they could move to."

We've been over that, again and again and again. The planned build out in THOSE places, the relatively limited transit (including that one metro line plus a street car line is not the equivalent of multiple metro lines, etc)

" That's what I've been saying all along. That yes, we'd survive another 4-6 stories, but if we'll be hitting this wall yet again, how much economic sense does it make to re-build downtown every 20 years?"

first we havent changed the height limit in a couple of generations. Second, we WONT be rebuilding downtown when we change the height limit. You keep implying that a 3 or 4 story change is going to result in every single existing building getting replaced. I dont think the economics is there for that, and we could stop that by allowing greater heights only on select parcels, or by putting it up for bid.

Should we have more regional planning? Sure, I wouldnt object. I dont see why thats an argument for building a new building in SW Eco district, or some similar parcel, at 130 ft instead of 200 feet. New buildings are going to be built in downtown DC in the next few years, and building thema at 130 ft NOW forecloses future options.

"And you acknowledge that build-out can and will happen in Rosslyn also, yet default to the conclusion that it would push people out further."

The less we build closer in, the more we will build further out. Today it may be that building less than we otherwise could in downtown DC means more building in Rosslyn. Tomorrow it will mean more in Ballston or Tysons. Note the operative - THAN THERE OTHERWISE WOULD BE.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

Cleveland park used to be considered a suburb, but people in the suburbs today would consider it downtown.

And they would be wrong.

No one has been talking about growing "away" from the center

Actually, that's exactly what you're talking about. Talking about creating more "centers" by definition means growing away from "the" center. Turning a city into a bunch of micro-downtowns means everything is moved away from the center.

Will the street cars currently being planned mean we will be "growing away from the center"?

No. Transit helps people to move closer to the center. Especially when it allows for the removal of parking.

That yes, we'd survive another 4-6 stories, but if we'll be hitting this wall yet again, how much economic sense does it make to re-build downtown every 20 years?

Well, first of all, that means we should choose a higher height limit (if one at all) and second it means major gains in the short run. In the long run, yes, eventually DC's downtown will likely be built out. But whether that happens in 5 years or 20 years matters. And the density of life in downtown or other close in areas matters. The equivalent argument to this is that eventually we're all going to be dead anyway so we might as well do meth.

And if the science of climate change is to be believed, we'd do well to focus on a regional transit system that allows many centers to absorbe growth instead of paving over farms we might need sooner than later.

A height limit results in more farms being paved over.

by David C on Sep 30, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

I would really like to see an evidence-based defense of the value of "light and air." There are studies out there, but I think it's telling that opponents don't use them, because they also show ways to integrate greenery, daylight, and fresh air into spaces.

I would also really like to see a proof that DC's limit is based on anything other than what was convenient at the time. Would DC not be better served by setbacks at a lower floor in exchange for more height?

And lastly, do the opponents have a politically feasible proposal to expand under the height limit, but beyond the zoning envelope of what is there now?

by Neil Flanagan on Sep 30, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

@AWITC, @9:52 am
Do you have a link and page numbers for the OP analysis you are discussing? I couldn’t find even a complete description, much less an analysis, of the current capacity for development in the reports on the NCPC web-site.

by OtherMike on Sep 30, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

@AWITC
That was the same report that was posted on the NCPC web-site. I read it after it was posted, and could not find any analysis of the current capacity for development. Did you find it in that report, and if so, on which pages?

by OtherMike on Sep 30, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

I think I'm missing a part of your argument then. You say there's limited sqft. potential for those areas I've mentioned yet you say "we WONT be rebuilding downtown when we change the height limit. I dont think the economics is there for that" So how is the limited re-building of downtown to capture another 4-6 stories of space going to supply the demand that you say can't be sustained in SW (for example) with it's large tracts of underdeveloped land? Where's the fire that we have to break our skyline for?

"No. Transit helps people to move closer to the center. Especially when it allows for the removal of parking." And center to center, like the Purple line would.

"Should we have more regional planning? Sure, I wouldnt object. I dont see why thats an argument for building a new building in SW Eco district, or some similar parcel, at 130 ft instead of 200 feet. " Becasue it's not been presented as an argument against 200' buildings in SW, but in DC.

"The less we build closer in, the more we will build further out." This simply goes back to our disagreement over how much land we still have in DC to grow. But if you say we wouldn't be re-building DTDC substantially with this new height limit, then what's your argument?

"A height limit results in more farms being paved over." Works in Houston and Atlanta, so I think you're on to something.

"Would DC not be better served by setbacks at a lower floor in exchange for more height?" Not unless you values a street wall and understood what makes for good urbanism at a street level.

"And lastly, do the opponents have a politically feasible proposal to expand under the height limit, but beyond the zoning envelope of what is there now?" I would love to see that plan, but unfortunatley, that would be the city's responsability, and to do it you also need some political backbone. Imagine telling Tennleytown they need to have a 6-8 story mainstreet with a 4-6 story transition of 2 blocks to either side? Talk about armagedon, yet that is how cities developed before the car became central to planners.

Once you look at a plan that spreads out the growth that will benefit the whole city, then I think it's fair to look at breaking the height limit. If the city goes for raising the limit, then fine, but there are so many moribund sections of the city that I find it hard to believe we just don't let the market place continue to do what it's been doing, which is makeing ever more parts of this city more livable.

by Thayer-D on Sep 30, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

"So how is the limited re-building of downtown to capture another 4-6 stories of space going to supply the demand that you say can't be sustained in SW (for example) with it's large tracts of underdeveloped land?"

Building in SW as currently planned and adding 4-6 stories to select parcels in downtown (including SW) will both add supply. Neither will give DC an infinite supply of space. An infinite supply is not a bar that needs to be met to justify changing the height limit.

" Where's the fire that we have to break our skyline for? "

Wheres the fire that justifies the current height limit? Break? Give me a break. adding a few stories wont break anything. Its all about weighing marginal costs vs marginal benefits.

"Should we have more regional planning? Sure, I wouldnt object. I dont see why thats an argument for building a new building in SW Eco district, or some similar parcel, at 130 ft instead of 200 feet. " Becasue it's not been presented as an argument against 200' buildings in SW, but in DC."

Last I heard, SW was in DC. The current height limit bans 200 ft buildings in SW, and other parcels where its hard to imagine a negative impact on streets. If its 200 ft buildings on K Street, or Conn Ave that are the problem, than just zone to not allow them there. See the title of this thread - the current limit is a blunt tool.

""The less we build closer in, the more we will build further out." This simply goes back to our disagreement over how much land we still have in DC to grow. But if you say we wouldn't be re-building DTDC substantially with this new height limit, then what's your argument?"

My argument is that there are SOME parcels that will grown - and that THOSE parcels, if built to higher limits, will mean more space within DC, with accompanying benefits.

""A height limit results in more farms being paved over." Works in Houston and Atlanta, so I think you're on to something.

Ceteris Paribas. If I had a dollar for each time a pro height act argument ignored that, Id buy meone of them new condos in City Center.

"Talk about armagedon, yet that is how cities developed before the car became central to planners."

Clearly we need a Hausmann. And with him a Napoleon III to push things through.

"which is makeing ever more parts of this city more livable."

And less affordable. For both businesses and residents.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

And center to center

Then you agree that transit helps people move closer to the center and does not cause growth away from the center.

Works in Houston and Atlanta, so I think you're on to something.

Actually it does. Can you imagine how much worse the sprawl would be in those cities with a 120' height limit? But the lack of a height limit is not enough by itself to contain sprawl. Nor is transit. Nor is an agricultural reserve. But they're all part of a complete breakfast.

by David C on Sep 30, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

@AWITC, Is there an OP report with an analysis of the District’s development capacity under current zoning and under the Height Act limits? The analysis wasn’t in the report you linked to or any other OP reports on the NCPC web-site. Yet, this seemed to be a “fact” that Ms. Tregoning relied on in her presentation.

by OtherMike on Sep 30, 2013 4:43 pm • linkreport

there is implicit discussion of capacity at several points in that report, but I do not know of a published report on capacity. That would be an excellent question for Ms Tregoning.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

OtherMike:

Is there an OP report with an analysis of the District’s development capacity under current zoning and under the Height Act limits? The analysis wasn’t in the report you linked to or any other OP reports on the NCPC web-site.

Have you read the reports? (these are all available at http://www.ncpc.gov/heightstudy/ )

http://www.ncpc.gov/heightstudy/docs/092013_DC_Height_Master_Plan_Draft_Recommendations_Report_FINAL.pdf

Go to page 29 and read from there.

by Alex B. on Sep 30, 2013 5:06 pm • linkreport

@Alex B. That is hardly a complete description of the methodology, but the map of properties with existing development capacity on page 35 and the description of the properties that OP chose to exclude make it clear that the estimate of development capacity grossly understates the amount of development possible under current zoning and under the current Height Act limits. The other calculations in this report also eliminated substantial areas with significant development capacity consistent with current zoning and consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

I had read that report on the NCPC web-site and did not find it adequate to support OP’s claims.

I do not see how a responsible planning office can recommend major policy changes based on assumptions about development capacity with the current Height Act limits without an adequate analysis of that development capacity. The report that you linked to does not support OP’s claims.

by OtherMike on Sep 30, 2013 5:49 pm • linkreport

" but the map of properties with existing development capacity on page 35 and the description of the properties that OP chose to exclude make it clear that the estimate of development capacity grossly understates the amount of development possible under current zoning and under the current Height Act limits. "

Which exclusion do you consider unreasonable?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 6:04 pm • linkreport

Indeed, I would also be interested to know which of their assumptions is leading to them "grossly understating" the amount of development that can occur.

The reason that they exclude things like decking over all the transportation ROWs and redeveloping everything that's 30+% built-up is that it would take some SERIOUS cost pressures in order to make that happen. And those are the kinds of cost pressures the city doesn't want, because in that scenario you'd basically be telling all development in the metro area to head for VA/MD.

by MLD on Sep 30, 2013 6:13 pm • linkreport

That's the first time I actually looked at the report. On pg. 17 there's a very clear map showing all the areas considered in the study. It shows even more areas off limit's than I had imagined. I think the OtherMike says what I've been trying to say intuitivley for months, and now I see it's backed up by an incredibly clear map.

Talking about available parcels, the East Potomac golf course looks to be eminently developable land, assuming you build way above the current grade. Linking up with Ft. Mcnair, Buzzards Point, and M Street SW looks like a stunning opportunity to have a great waterfront skyline on both sides of the inlet. While were at it, do we really need a massive Naval Support Facility in Anacostia, right there? Like Stapleton in Denver, the old municipal airport that was moved further out, they could be building out that massive parcel for years to come. For other fun and really built-out looking plans, enjoy "arch-traditionalist genius/maniac Leon Krier in 1985"s vision.

http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A3250&page_number=11&template_id=1&sort_order=1

by Thayer-D on Sep 30, 2013 8:43 pm • linkreport

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