Greater Greater Washington

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Ask Congress to give DC self-rule on building heights

Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) is ready to give DC more local control over the sizes of its own buildings, a small step forward for self-government. He expressed shock this week that many DC leaders, including DC Council chairman Phil Mendelson, are rejecting the opportunity.


Issa wants to loosen the Congressonal yoke. Photo by Ludie Cochrane on Flickr.

"I heard separately to my astonishment, for the first time ever, a rejection of Home Rule," he said. "I expected you all to say, 'Gosh, this will take years and years.' ... I did not expect, for the first time ever, to have people say, 'Please don't give me authority. I can't be trusted.'"

Issa needs to hear from people who do support the idea of Congress loosening its grip over DC. Please send him and other relevant Congressional leaders a letter asking them to let DC residents make their own choices about their built environment (at least where it doesn't directly affect the federal government).

Mendelson argued that "citizens of the District do not support any change" to the height limit, or even the right to make changes in the future, largely because most of the people who could take four or six whole hours, often in the middle of a workday, just to attend a hearing and speak for three minutes opposed change. (Note to Mendelson: Some of us have other stuff to do, like jobs and kids.)

Even if DC doesn't change its building height rules now, sooner or later we're going to need to do something about the housing shortage that's pushing up housing prices so fast. As Harriet Tregoning noted in the hearing, if DC eventually decides that height, even just in a targeted area, is the solution, it might be too late if the House oversight chairman at the time doesn't believe as strongly in local self-government as Issa does.

When Congress granted DC Home Rule in 1973, they were willing to let a locally-elected council and mayor pass most laws, but didn't entirely trust DC to decide everything for itself. They kept power over the courts, didn't let the council change any criminal laws for 2 years, gave the federal government seats on the boards that decide zoning, and forbade the local government from making any changes to the height limit. Each of these is basically a reminder that they only trusted DC citizens so far.

Now, a powerful committee chairman wants to trust us just a little more. Despite some bad apples, the District has balanced its budget for many years now, has reduced crime, and provides municipal services about as well as any city. Any height changes would have to still go through the federal NCPC and hybrid federal-local zoning commission, and Congress could still veto a change. But we're grown up enough to have a say in building heights, whether we end up deciding to change building height rules, or not, or wait until later.

Contact Congress

This petition is now closed. Thank you for participating!

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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It was pretty shocking to see many elected officials in DC rebuff the efforts of Congress to give us a little more say in our affairs. Kudos to the Mayor for getting Budget Autonomy for 2014 and for standing up for this.

Regardless of how one feels about actually changing the limits in some parts of town, we should all agree that having as much say ourselves is better than submitting to the Congressional overlords.

It is ironic that Rep. Issa and former Rep. Davis (R-VA) have done more for DC than any democratic congressmen.

Thanks for writing this.

by Andrew on Dec 6, 2013 10:10 am • linkreport

Sadly, I truly believe the NIMBYs who always have supported Phil, the enviro-NIMBY, actually would prefer even less autonomy for DC residents. Many of these folks were around before home rule was granted, and they liked the way it was before then. This is because it kept the majority of folks who were not like them from having more of a say in their lives. I'll leave out the obvious symbolism of having a Federal overseer and how that made many people feel for years. There is still the view that if given even more autonomy, the populace will do crazy stuff like permit lower income people to move into their Ward.

Phil is a good politician and knows how to pander to his base. But he is far from a deep thinker on issues such as this, and he made a big mistake, which is why his explanations are so lame. I can almost hear the Committee of 100 saying as he did that "people don't trust their elected officials to make the right decision." Sorry Phil, I cannot trust you to make the right decisions when it comes to autonomy.

by fongfong on Dec 6, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

This entire situation is analogous to something like taxes. You ask folks if they want their own taxes to go up and probably a large majority will say no; just like the public sentiment against changing the Height Act. However, that doesn't mean that a large majority of people would support local tax rates being set by Congress instead of our own elected officials.

by Adam Lewis on Dec 6, 2013 10:26 am • linkreport

The contortions people need to make to push a bad idea -- raising the height limit -- are amusing.

The feds aren't that interested. Maybe in Anacosita or Friendship Heights. Local leaders don't want it raised. But Daryl Issa -- a saint, a guide, and the man who invented the "VIPER" car alarm after he torched his warehouse for the insurance money -- must be right.

by charlie on Dec 6, 2013 10:33 am • linkreport

This is no effort at self-rule- this is an effort to override the wishes of the vast majority who want to keep the height limit by the developers and their mindless paid shills.

If you want to do away with the height limit put it to a referendum of the people if you're genuinely concerned about self-rule. You know you would LOSE by a huge majority.

Cloaking having the decision made against the public will by a select few in the name of self rule is Orwellian double speak.

Get over it- the people hate this stupid idea and trying to force it on them just makes the proponents look even more obnoxious.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 6, 2013 10:43 am • linkreport

I totally agree with the merits of both the reasonable OP proposal for targeted height increases, especially that outside L'Enfant City height should be decided locally. While I and many other GGW readers and urbanists might agree, it's very clear that on the merits, importantly a lot of people don't. I believe Mendelson's point is not as much an objection to home rule (an argument made late in the game) as much as it's an objection to the process used to make the case for more height.

Congress asked for the study in relatively short order, which meant that a comp plan update wouldn't be possible and put OP in a tough position. This meant that a thorough analysis of all the urban design, transportation, economic and other benefits, costs, and impacts of such an action were not fully explored.

In trying to change a 100+ year old law, intertia is a an incredibly powerful force. It's much too easy to do nothing and declare victory despite any home rule arguments. This is why an overwhelming case must be made that there will be great costs to DC if no action is taken and significant benefits to allowing more height. An absence of this also means that there is no unified local position to Congress from the Mayor, Council, and Rep. Norton, which makes this an uphill battle.

I hope the act is amended consistent with the OP recommendations, but it's very clear a lot more work needs to be done to make the case that it's in the best interests of DC and other stakeholders to do so.

by Jonathan P on Dec 6, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

This is no effort at self-rule- this is an effort to override the wishes of the vast majority who want to keep the height limit by the developers and their mindless paid shills.

If that were the case wouldn't it be easier to convince Issa to change the Height of Buildings Act rather than convince him to give more power to the DC council which is majority anti heigh limit?

by drumz on Dec 6, 2013 10:57 am • linkreport

Issa would be more credible if he would also allow DC authority on issues he cares about himself like abortion, drug legalization, drug programs and gun control. Feigning outrage, shock and surprise about issues that are irrelevant to you is easy.

by Jasper on Dec 6, 2013 11:24 am • linkreport

Modestly relaxing the Height Act within walking distance of the outer metro stations in DC will not compromise or ruin any of the views of the Washington Monument, Capitol, or other historical sites that we all value. There are currently 15-20 story buildings on the Maryland side of Friendship Heights (http://images.prd.mris.com/image/V2/1/M6nCSBmT1n5W5Xat1kT92tSeuOAcarc-98Mx-NEcjIYTP_gGKxLZew_W4i5Yula2iUeJuqo0OIH2VojpmY7Q7WDFpS9S1IoioLCS1_ChVm4jVNcyPYU1LA0pRuWcZBapkAnuBrSDOfU2gHUcFyXvGQ.jpg)). I would ask the Congress why, in a location seven miles from the L'Enfant core, 175-foot tall buildings are allowed on one side of Western Avenue but not on the other? I fail to see any federal interest in this.

Also, aside from the collection of austere and cold brutalist buildings, can anyone tell me what "the unique charm and character of Van Ness is"?

by 202_cyclist on Dec 6, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

Yes, it would be easier to just convince Issa to increase heights. And that's what the Gray administration is trying to do. The home rule claim is just smoke and mirrors.

The proposal Tregoning presented on December 2nd was for Congress to amend the Height Act to increase heights in L'Enfant City (up to 200 ft from 130 ft max most places (with 160 ft allowed along a couple of blocks of PA Ave on one side of the street)) and to leave the Height Act in place citywide but to allow DC to propose targeted exceptions for increased heights in places that do not impact federal interests. NCPC would have line item veto power over such exceptions.

These are policy changes, not structural changes. And the Mayor is asking for Congress to impose them on the District, knowing that the Council is opposed. You have to be pretty cynical to call this home rule.

by BTDT on Dec 6, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

Issa is simply not credible and the fact that the pro-height folks are leaning on him shows exactly to what lengths they are willing to go. I think there are some legitimate arguments for raising the height limit, but Home Rule is a lame fig leaf.

Exactly what Jasper said.

"Issa would be more credible if he would also allow DC authority on issues he cares about himself like abortion, drug legalization, drug programs and gun control."

Boom.

by Thayer-D on Dec 6, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

These are policy changes, not structural changes. And the Mayor is asking for Congress to impose them on the District, knowing that the Council is opposed. You have to be pretty cynical to call this home rule.

You haven't accurately reflected the proposal:

There are two things required to build taller: 1, change in the federal law, and 2, an update to the comprehensive plan.

The Mayor is asking for #1, but #2 still provides a veto point for the Council.

The OP proposal is asking to give DC more power over its own fate than it currently has.

You have to be pretty cynical to not call this an expansion of home rule.

by Alex B. on Dec 6, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

The arguments about whether or not buildings will be higher is so far down the line as to be unlikely to change in my lifetime. Opponents, like most of the commenters, will have plenty of time to kill any changes to the Comprehensive Plan and then in the zoning code after the federal rule is changed.

Truly, Phil's fear here is that his NIMBY brigade actually does not reflect the rule of the majority, or at least what it might be in the future. If this was not his concern, and that he really spoke for the vast majority, he'd not oppose this limit on home rule.

by fongfong on Dec 6, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

The Comp Plan process will not give the Council an effective veto power over exceptions to the Height Act. The Comp Plan isn't self-executing. Whether and how its provisions get implemented depends on what the 5 member unelected Zoning Commission adopts. And the Council doesn't have veto power over the Zoning Commission. The Office of Planning does have a lot of power over the Zoning Commission which lacks its own staff of planners and relies on OP for analysis and development review.

by BTDT on Dec 6, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

The Comp Plan process will not give the Council an effective veto power over exceptions to the Height Act.

The plan will have to be revised; the Council has plenty of say in structuring those policies.

The key difference is that a height limit then becomes a matter of local policy, rather than a federal law imposed on the locals.

Again, how is that not a win for home rule?

The Chairman Mendelson and others want to keep building heights as they are, then that's fine - but that should be a decision the city gets to make as a part of that process, not via fiat from the Federal Government. And the only way we will take that power of self-determination back is by modifying the existing federal law.

by Alex B. on Dec 6, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

Issa is simply not credible and the fact that the pro-height folks are leaning on him shows exactly to what lengths they are willing to go. I think there are some legitimate arguments for raising the height limit, but Home Rule is a lame fig leaf.

The "pro-height folks" aren't leaning on Issa for no reason - he brought the topic up because he's the head of the damn committee that oversees DC.

There is a lot of projecting and jumping to conclusions here. Getting rid of or changing the federal limit does not mean an automatic increase in density.

by MLD on Dec 6, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

"The key difference is that a height limit then becomes a matter of local policy, rather than a federal law imposed on the locals."

No it doesn't -- The proposal is that the Height Act (federal law) stays in place city-wide. Limits are immediately raised downtown BY CONGRESS (imposed on the locals over Council opposition) and DC can grant additional increases (as an exception to the rule) later -- through a process where feds but not the DC Council have veto power.

The way to achieve home rule is to amend the Home Rule Act -- not the Height Act.

by BTDT on Dec 6, 2013 1:40 pm • linkreport

No it doesn't -- The proposal is that the Height Act (federal law) stays in place city-wide. Limits are immediately raised downtown BY CONGRESS (imposed on the locals over Council opposition) and DC can grant additional increases (as an exception to the rule) later -- through a process where feds but not the DC Council have veto power.

So, it gives DC more autonommy then DC has now - how is that not an increase in home rule?

Also, the Council might not have line-item veto power over the Comp Plan, the entire plan nevertheless must be adopted by the Council. I think that's more in line with Home Rule than begging Congress.

The way to achieve home rule is to amend the Home Rule Act -- not the Height Act.

I'd favor this, too. The Home Rule act lists a number of things that DC can't do; including amending the Height Act. If you want to propose to strike that clause from the Home Rule act so that the height act becomes a local law, I'm all for it.

But, let's be clear: the ask for changes to the height limit is still about increasing DC home rule.

by Alex B. on Dec 6, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

The feds still have to agree to any change to the Height Act, including the exceptions. So, no, there's no "autonomy" in this proposal. And the changes we will get in the Height Act (increased heights downtown and the possibility of exceptions elsewhere) will be the result of begging Congress. Nothing empowering here -- just an end-run around the Council and a pretty shameless invocation of home rule as a justification for doing so. Clearly the Mayor already has the power to ask Congress to change the Height Act -- he's doing it now.

by BTDT on Dec 6, 2013 2:45 pm • linkreport

Come on,let's give Mendo a break. He never once said or acted like he was very bright. The position he has taken in this matter is shocking to most people - but a surprise, not hardly.

by Catfish on Dec 6, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

And the changes we will get in the Height Act (increased heights downtown and the possibility of exceptions elsewhere) will be the result of begging Congress.

Whether we beg Congress for this or beg them to alter the home rule act, we're begging one way or the other. If you don't like the merits of the proposal, that's fine - but it doesn't change the fact that we are asking for an increase in our autonomy.

We're asking for the autonomy to consider those changes to building heights. We cannot currently consider them, due to Federal law. Again, how is this not an increase in home rule?

by Alex B. on Dec 6, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

@BTDT is arguing in circles - I won't take the bait.

As for the Comprehensive Plan process, BTDT is unaware that the last time around there were plenty of floor amendments to have particular passages changed without any discussion or debate. To suggest the Council simply has advice and consent on it is incorrect. They get to change it.

by fongfong on Dec 6, 2013 3:17 pm • linkreport

You might be chasing your own tail, but I'm not arguing in circles. RE the Council: Again, the Comp Plan is not self-executing. It gets implemented by zoning regs, which the DC Council neither writes nor can veto. Those regs are written by a five member unelected board (a mix of federal and Mayoral appointees) and their work can be vetoed by the feds (e.g. NCPC).

RE autonomy: If the feds can veto what DC Council does, then we don't have autonomy. This is our situation with the budget, with other legislation, and would remain our situation under an amended Height Act. The suggestion that the Mayor has made to the feds is that they retain the Height Act, that *Congress* raise the current limit to 200 feet (not that it be put to a vote in DC), and that DC can propose additional exceptions, which the feds will have the power to veto. That's just not autonomy by any stretch of the imagination.

by BTDT on Dec 6, 2013 4:51 pm • linkreport

the developers and their mindless paid shills.

Why must some people always assume that others' motives are strictly material? I am not on any developer's payroll, nor are, for instance, most of the contributors to this site.

Comparing the dueling testimonies, I'd say that "mindless" applies more to the status-quo defenders: I never once saw or heard any Height Act defenders use any quantitative data in favor of their case, only anecdote and emotion.

by Payton on Dec 6, 2013 6:23 pm • linkreport

"I never once saw or heard any Height Act defenders use any quantitative data in favor of their case, only anecdote and emotion."

But I've heard a lot of pro-height advocates employ a lot of emotion. Ultimately, it depends on what data you are willing to use as there have been countless academic and real estate studies that speak to the market's preference for human scaled and detailed streetscapes. Because architecture is an art, it employs both emotion and data in it's creation, and as such there is an aspect of it that will never be understood purely through "quantitative data". That's not meant to be a cop-out on the data issue, just that the market can be "emotional" at times. Didn't Greenspan call it irrational exuberance?

by Thayer-D on Dec 6, 2013 7:18 pm • linkreport

... there have been countless academic and real estate studies that speak to the market's preference for human scaled and detailed streets capes.

Citation, please?

Thayer, I'd like to hear how height limit defenders plan on easing market pressure without obliterating a lot of neighborhoods. I'd like to see a lot more of Paris in DC, but we have to be realistic about what's possible. I love Washington Heights, the Ringstrasse, and Mission, but a lot of people really don't like dense mat environments, even when they're classical. Taller TOD allows most of the SFH to remain as-is. That's politically feasible.

Where are the opponents actually advocating for revising the comp plan to allow the density we need to keep prices down? Where are they talking to developers about moving to other neighborhoods?

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 6, 2013 7:26 pm • linkreport

I have to say my view on the height limit has become a little less clear. It seems like in the short and medium term zoning is more of an issue in most places. It's not that I particularly prefer 20 storey buildings. I'm rather agnostic about them, but it seems like the alternative is massive redevelopment of large tracts of the city and much higher densities. Of course the reality of that means pushing more and more people further out of the city to make way. So it seems like adding more density downtown and by metro stations is the better choice, but I guess DC will pick its poison.

by BTA on Dec 6, 2013 8:13 pm • linkreport

Also semantics aside I do think it's fundamentally a home rule issue as it expands (pretty much the degree that we could forseeably want) the options for future zoning changes. It's like a credit card limit. I suppose no limit is theoretically more spending power than $100,000 but if its far enough outside my ability to ever pay back does it matter?

by BTA on Dec 6, 2013 8:17 pm • linkreport

"Citation, please?"

Neil, I don't keep a running list of every study I've come across, but I'll direct you to a couple of sites I've come accross recently where surveys can be found, if you're willing to dig. http://archinect.com, Atlantic Cities, and http://bettercities.net/news-opinion/blogs/kaid-benfield/20743/architecture-public-responsibility-and-art-listening to name a few.

More importantly, I'd also point to empirical evidence in what neighborhoods and building characteristics are the ones in most demand, ie, the market. Brooking's Institute has done some interesting research on this topic as well.

"Thayer, I'd like to hear how height limit defenders plan on easing market pressure without obliterating a lot of neighborhoods."

This has been explained ad nauseum on this site. I'm not saying you'll find these solutions convincing, but they are out there and many serious people understand them. I agree that Ninbyism is an obstacle for increasing density through means other than height increases, but there will be opposition to any changes, so it becomes a matter of pros and cons, which again have been covered in detail recently.

" I'd like to see a lot more of Paris in DC, but we have to be realistic about what's possible. I love Washington Heights, the Ringstrasse, and Mission, but a lot of people really don't like dense mat environments, even when they're classical. Taller TOD allows most of the SFH to remain as-is. That's politically feasible."

I'm not convinced that the Houston model of skyscrapers surrounded by low rise SFH neighborhoods would loose out to Washington Heights or Flatbush for that matter, but be that as it may, there's resistance to both strategies, so why not pursue the one that will enhance walkabillity for more people?

" it seems like the alternative is massive redevelopment of large tracts of the city and much higher densities. Of course the reality of that means pushing more and more people further out of the city to make way."

It might seem different if the OP did an actual study that compared apples to apples, but as been pointed out many times before, they haven't, and this is too important of an issue to fudge.

by Thayer-D on Dec 6, 2013 9:17 pm • linkreport

You can't make a broad claim like that without citing the evidence. I'm not going to nourish the spirit of your argument.

Houston is a straw man. No one is proposing that, except you, since that model of development remains very popular, market-wise.

You've typically excoriated me for referring to "human-scale" as meaning small, rather than scaled to some theory of traditional proportion. Surely, it can be scaled up, no?

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 6, 2013 9:49 pm • linkreport

Preserving self determination by over-riding the overwhelming desire of the people is analogous to the killing people to save them logic.

TREGONING has gone to Congress to get the will of the people to keep the height act over-ridden. Where's the outcry from the Coalition of Smarter People to that affront to self determination?

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 6, 2013 11:03 pm • linkreport

charlie, it doesn't matter who Daryl Issa is, what he's done or what he says. He's right on this. If he said that 2+2=4 he'd be right, despite the fact that he invented a car alarm. And he'd be right because it's true. Don't try to paint this a bad idea just because Issa likes it.

by David C on Dec 7, 2013 1:10 am • linkreport

This is no effort at self-rule- this is an effort to override the wishes of the vast majority who want to keep the height limit by the developers and their mindless paid shills.

By giving the power to set the height limit to the duly-elected representatives of the city instead of a body elected entirely by people from outside of DC? How does that override the wishes of voters? And what is the polling data on the height limit?

by David C on Dec 7, 2013 1:18 am • linkreport

Can't we all just get along?

by R. King on Dec 7, 2013 5:10 am • linkreport

"You can't make a broad claim like that without citing the evidence. I'm not going to nourish the spirit of your argument."

Please don't. Like I've said, we can cite study after study and never convince each other. I like asking people their opinions, study cities, and tie that into market forces. It's not a science, but a fine blend of art and science called architecture. What many data junkies seem afraid or unwilling to do is account for the art part of the equation. Maybe because it resists quantifying with the certainty scientists would like. That's why the market is a great arbiter, restrictions and all.

I'm not proposing Houston but simply using it as an example of the loop sided city scape your're advocating for. What other American city should I have used to illustrate my point? Houston is far from unique in this regard. I've never proposed whole scale razing of single family urban neighborhoods, especially since I live in one. But I'm all for building them up in a common sense way that spreads out the benefits of development through out the city rather than concentrating it all in the downtown areas. It's a nuanced argument like the architectural debate you and I have had before. If I've "excoriated" you before, I apologize, especially if it was for "referring to 'human-scale' as meaning small, rather than scaled to some theory of traditional proportion." Truth be told, I don't check with any theory of traditional proportion when designing buildings, I prefer to use my eye, as unscientific as it might be.

by Thayer-D on Dec 7, 2013 7:28 am • linkreport

David C- The elected representatives of the people did speak overwhelmingly. Almost unanimously. Tregoning's request to Congress is to override this and give the power to her and the Zoning Commission.

She's not elected (never would be) and neither is the 3-member zoning commission.

And Issa likes the idea because it's a far-right-wing idea: Let business build what they want without government restrictions.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 7, 2013 8:36 am • linkreport

"By giving the power to set the height limit to the duly-elected representatives of the city instead of a body elected entirely by people from outside of DC?"

Again, that's not what's proposed. What's proposed is that a body elected entirely by people outside of DC will amend the existing law to increase allowable heights to 200 feet, and a non-elected hybrid Commission will have the power to make exceptions to that limit, subject to federal veto. And that these things should be done over the objections of the duly elected representatives of the city's residents.

Structurally, Congress would retain all of its power -- to set maximum height limits throughout the city and to veto attempts to exceed them -- under this plan. It would just be raising the maximum heights and saying feel free to ask for exceptions. It's not transferring any of its authority to the DC Council or to other elected representatives of the city.

by BTDT on Dec 7, 2013 8:59 am • linkreport

She's not elected (never would be) and neither is the 3-member zoning commission.

No, but she's appointed by someone who is elected by DC voters under laws that were written by people who are elected by DC voters. And the majority of the zoning commission is also appointed by someone who is elected by DC voters and approved by the Council.

Let's not pretend that appointed office holders - appointed under the law written by elected representatives and chosen by an elected official - is somehow undemocratic.

And Issa likes the idea because it's a far-right-wing idea: Let business build what they want without government restrictions.

That's irrelevant. I don't care if he likes the idea because the goblin in his sock drawer told him it would open a gateway to Narnia. It's still the right decision.

And that these things should be done over the objections of the duly elected representatives of the city's residents.

Nope. Last I checked the Mayor is duly elected. But you are correct that this proposal doesn't just remove the height limit, which is what it should do.

by David C on Dec 7, 2013 11:37 pm • linkreport

" Let business build what they want without government restrictions."

NYC and Boston allow buildings of over 130 ft = are they right wing cities?

The notion that anything that deregulates ANYTHING is a right wing idea is silly. Might as well consider private property right wing (which in many respects it is, of course)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 8, 2013 8:06 am • linkreport

David C- Generally important public matters are left to the legislative function while administrative day-to-day functioning is left to the executive. The executive has become much more powerful through time but overturning the expressed overwhelming desire of the people expressed through their representatives on an important legislative matter by an administrator is going too far.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 8, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

"Let's not pretend that appointed office holders - appointed under the law written by elected representatives and chosen by an elected official - is somehow undemocratic."

True, but maybe in the future politicians should be asked specifically where they stand on this issue to give voters a chance to weigh in. Like it or not, the Feds going to have jurisdiction over portions of our city like they have in others, but when DC finally get's home rule, they should be allowed to dictate their own +future. Until then, conflating these two issues seems disengenuous.

"I don't care if he likes the idea because the goblin in his sock drawer told him it would open a gateway to Narnia. It's still the right decision."

People on both sided think their side is right. That's why some kind of vote would be in order. Mr. Issa should not be allowed to cherry pick which issues he'd like to bestow on the city of Washington. I still think putting DC's congressional votes with Maryland would solve this whole mess and let the Federal Government retain its own islands within like the Vatican in Rome, but that's another point.

by Thayer-D on Dec 8, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

Tom, the executive said one thing. The legislature said another. I call it a tie at best. Norton breaks the tie in favor of home rule.

by David C on Dec 8, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

*facepalm*

by BTDT on Dec 8, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

*eggplant*

by David C on Dec 8, 2013 5:38 pm • linkreport

David C- Norton, like 12 of the 13 DC Councilmembers, and almost all Washingtonians, is totally opposed to doing away with the height limit. She says it is "Off the Table".

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 8, 2013 7:39 pm • linkreport

David C- Norton, like 12 of the 13 DC Councilmembers, and almost all Washingtonians, is totally opposed to doing away with the height limit.

First, your statement about "almost all Washingtonians" is without evidence. If you have some polling data, please bring it forward.

Second, you're asking the wrong question. It isn't if we should change the height act, it is if we should be allowed to change the height act.

Anyone who supports Statehood also implicitly supports giving DC the ability to determine changes.

by Alex B. on Dec 8, 2013 8:05 pm • linkreport

Alex B- Who's this "we" who should be allowed to change the height act? Are you Tregoning or one of the members of the Zoning board?

It's a bold face lie in the letter that "the residents" should decide. Tregoning wants it to be up to Tregoning to override the desires of the residents.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 8, 2013 8:31 pm • linkreport

Again, the problem with the "vast majority oppose it" claim is that they could still have enormous influence over the limit, via the comp plan.

Look at the compromises OP has had to make in order to get the ZRR passed. Harriet Tregoning is not Robert Moses. Conservatives continually undermine OP's ability to regulate growth meaningfully. Backdoor deals, big projects done in secrecy, focusing on downtown - all of these are aggravated by how weak OP is when it has to cheerlead development rather than regulate developers.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 8, 2013 9:00 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.: “First, your statement about ‘almost all Washingtonians’ is without evidence. If you have some polling data, please bring it forward.”

The NCPC staff compiled all the online submissions, formal letters and testimony that were provided to the NCPC, DCOP and the DC Council. They found that:

Of 488 individual residents testifying or submitting comments, 366 were against any changes in the Height Act, and 122 supported changes in the Height Act.

Of 29 civic associations testifying or submitting comments, 27 were against any changes in the Height Act, and 2 support changes in the Height Act.

Of 23 issue and advocacy groups, 21 were against changes in the Height Act, and 2 supported changes in the Height Act.

4 development and business groups supported exploring Height Act changes.

by OtherMike on Dec 8, 2013 9:25 pm • linkreport

OtherMike,

I asked for polling data for a reason; if someone has access to an assessment of opinions on the subject without biasing the sample, I would like to see it.

I don't think you are claiming that 488 residents submitting comments really represents 634,000 Washingtonians, or that the 488 represent a random sample.

by Alex B. on Dec 8, 2013 10:10 pm • linkreport

Who's this "we" who should be allowed to change the height act? Are you Tregoning or one of the members of the Zoning board?

The zoning board doesn't just decide things on their own; they are quasi-judicial in nature and must ensure their decisions are not inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

The ZC can't approve buildings that aren't in-line with the Plan. The Plan is approved by the Council. Simple as that.

You don't see the ZC approving massive apartment buildings in a neighborhood of single-family detached homes - because that kind of a project wouldn't be consistent with the comprehensive plan. The ZC has leeway, yes - but that leeway is not unlimited.

by Alex B. on Dec 8, 2013 10:19 pm • linkreport

Tom, Here is what Norton has said about the Height limit

"If you're a smart growth person, the way I am, then build to the sky," she says. "That's what I would like to do in the neighborhoods."

by David C on Dec 8, 2013 11:18 pm • linkreport

David C- Norton also said- "You don't just decide that you want to change the Height Act. Nobody knows what they're talking about," Norton said. "These people are the idiots who think they already know everything."

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2012/04/24/holmes-norton-says-shes-torn-on-the-height-act/

Many of us are urbanists and smart growth advocates who would like more density done intelligently but are frustrated by a few frankly idiots who lie and have little insight but have proclaimed themselves the "smart growth" leaders and in doing so have given the general public a terrible impression of urbanism locally.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 8, 2013 11:32 pm • linkreport

a few frankly idiots

Who are these idiots?

Anyway, Norton goes on to say that it's scale rather than a specific height. That's true! But that's not to say the scale we have is the best.

And Lydia makes an obvious point after that on the list of things that make DC unique the height limit is nowhere near the top. Most people unquestioningly assume the rule is based on the Washington Monument (which if true would make the height limit about as high as philly's back when they adhered to theirs).

Anyway, if all the elected officials in the city are against changing it then pro-limit folks shouldn't be worried about a thing since it would be pretty much impossible to vote out these people on this issue alone. Or one day the congress could decide that it is in the federal interest to build as tall as we can in Downtown DC and the DC council will be up a creek anyway.

tl;dr the justifications for keeping the political structure we have just because there might be a discussion about how tall buildings need to be is becoming absurd.

by drumz on Dec 8, 2013 11:48 pm • linkreport

Even though we may not agree what the height limit is, or whether there should even be one, we should agree that Congress is the wrong body to define it.

by David C on Dec 8, 2013 11:53 pm • linkreport

I meant "...what the RIGHT height limit is..."

by David C on Dec 8, 2013 11:54 pm • linkreport

drumz- """"Anyway, if all the elected officials in the city are against changing it then pro-limit folks shouldn't be worried about a thing since it would be pretty much impossible to vote out these people on this issue alone.""""

What don't you get about that the elected officials would NOT have the decision- only the Director of OP would (with review by the ZC). IF we were talking about the people's elected representatives having this power it would be an entirely different argument. But we're not, we're talking about Tregoning wanting the power for Tregoning alone to decide to abolish the height limit and to override the public and their elected representatives. Dress that up how you want it's not self determination.

David C- I don't agree that Congress has no right or interest at all in the height limit or that even states don't have interests in what is allowed to be built around their state capitols. It's a matter of the proper amount of influence.

But the WORST party to decide something as important and which would be irreversible would be the developers who stand to make billions off of increased value of their real estate. And OP is in regulatory capture to the developers.

If you were talking about a referendum or even a Council vote it would be one thing. But instead you talking about overriding a perceived stupid public by people who consider themselves "smarter" and those who have a huge financial incentive. That's an obnoxious position that is souring people fast on this self-proclaimed "smarter" crowd.

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 9, 2013 12:54 am • linkreport

So basically, OP would be able to do the job its been set to do which is, plan.

Also, it seems a bit unreasonable to think of Ms. Tregoning going through all of this so that she can unilaterally do what's needed to put up "Harriet's House", a 50 story tower. In any case if her dictatorial ambitions are to see skyscrapers in DC I'd daresay her ambitions are a little too low.

The mayor could you know, just appoint someone in favor of the height limit to head OP if he's worried about OP and the height limit.

by drumz on Dec 9, 2013 1:09 am • linkreport

But the WORST party to decide something as important and which would be irreversible would be the developers who stand to make billions off of increased value of their real estate. And OP is in regulatory capture to the developers.

They happen to agree in this case, that doesn't mean regulatory capture. And so what if developers stand to make billions? Are developers evil? Perhaps we should round them all up and put them in the gallows? I know you want to make developers out to be the bogeyman here, but we already have ways of keeping them in check.

We are not talking about overriding a stupid perceived public. We are talking about loosening the regulation as passed by a body that is 100% not beholden to DC and allowing bodies that are much more responsive to us (and representative of us as they must be DC residents) to decide how to regulate things. Perhaps Congress should be allowed to limit heights near the Capitol, but why should they then limit them in Takoma Park?

by David C on Dec 9, 2013 9:26 am • linkreport

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