Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Up, up, and away


Photo by hojusaram on Flickr.
The height limit is popular: 61% of DC residents want to keep the height limit. But people who want to relax the limit are actually 10 points less likely to support Mayor Gray, the only candidate who backs a change. (Post)

Minimum wage going up: DC's minimum wage will gradually rise to $11.50 by July 2016 under a bill Mayor Gray signed yesterday. Beginning in 2017, the minimum wage will increase with inflation. (City Paper)

More parking for Huntington: A proposed residential building near Huntington Metro had 161 spaces for 141 units, but Fairfax County planning staff recommended rejecting the project for not having enough parking. It now will have 191 spaces. (WBJ)

Where do the kids go?: Evidence is mounting that cities are becoming a land of singles without children. Only 16.8 percent of DC's total population is under 18. What are the implications after they begin families? (Urban Turf, Atlantic Cities)

Marijuana bill moves forward: A council committee approved a bill by Tommy Wells to decriminalize marijuana possession to just a fine. The Post poll finds 63% of DC residents favor outright legalizing marijunana. (DCist, Post)

Rep. Moran retiring: Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) will not run for re-election. Frank Wolf (R-VA) previously announced his retirement as well. Of course, there's already speculation about who could run for the Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax seat. (Post)

Express lanes fall short: A one-year review of the 495 Express Lanes showed fewer vehicles than predicted. Transurban predicted 66,000 daily trips, but only reached a maximum 47,303 in September. The average toll price was $2.32. (WTOP)

And...: A bill would route part of DC's budget surplus for affordable housing. (City Paper) ... Bethesda's Purple Line station is in limbo over one building. (WAMU) ... DC's Taxi Commission will partially pay for 3,000 drivers to paint their vehicles. (DCist)

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Kayla Gail Anthony is a project analyst in DC. She has a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Maryland and a BA in Communications from The University of Alabama. She lives in Mt. Pleasant. Posts are her own viewpoint and do not represent her employer. 

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I accurately predicted the true unpopularity of removing height restrictions. Now go away youngsters, off my lawn.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 8:34 am • linkreport

That height poll is rife with possible inaccuracies. First of all, whats the geography of the poll? All of DC? Shocking that the established single family home owners and non-apartment livers are against it, but in the same respect why is their opinion of any importance? The height limit question is for a very condensed far away from SFH region of the city.

Limit the poll to within 1/2 mile of the edges of the proposed height district, and see what people who already live in mid-rises say.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 16, 2014 8:45 am • linkreport

"but in the same respect why is their opinion of any importance?"

Uh, because we are all taxpayers here

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 8:48 am • linkreport

I think the stats regarding the height limit simply prove how easy it is for a small group of people to become convinced of something when they continually say it in an echo chamber, and of course the office of planning went ahead and ran with it.

The age differential is pretty telling here too. Basically, relatively young people who just moved to DC within the past ~ 5 years think the height limit should go, and folks who have lived here longer than 5 years think it should stay. Not exactly new or shocking info to anyone who has been paying attention.

by Jackie on Jan 16, 2014 8:49 am • linkreport

"established single family home owners and non-apartment livers are against it, "

Well, I can't speak for livers, but as the poll showed a majority of DC residents don't want the height restriction removed.

As I said yesterday, the "market" is providing an adequate supply of housing for young people. 2500 rents suck, but get a roommate and that is what you pay to have a job.

What we don't have is a market for 3-4 bedroom condos for families who want an urban environment.

by charlie on Jan 16, 2014 8:52 am • linkreport

Navid,
The article details some of your questions. Starting with...
"support for taller buildings failing to gain a clear a majority in any demographic or political subset in the survey, whether defined by race, age, geography or income."

Also, interesting about ward 1 with it's large SFH and newby apartment dwellers going a bit for the changes...
"The split is relatively even for only two groups: residents of Ward 1, an area immediately north of downtown that has gentrified considerably in the past decade; and people who have lived in the city for five years or less."

All that aside, the graphic is a bit strange because the difference between today's limit an 130' is substantial. It looks like they tood the museums and Federal triangle and blocked up from their, which would be unlikey in any event.

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 8:52 am • linkreport

Hmm, people from all 50 states have used the express lanes? I am sure there are a few hawaii plates in the DC area, but why do I doubt they have used the lanes?

by charlie on Jan 16, 2014 8:54 am • linkreport

"Issa expressed “astonishment” at hearing that local leaders did not want the additional flexibility. “I did not expect to hear, for the first time ever, to have people say, ‘Please don’t give me authority, I can’t be trusted,’”

Talk about disingenuous, equating rejection of an increased building height with wanting self determination. Those two things have nothing to do with eachother. This from a guy who can't wait to impeach Obama for being president. Me thinks Issa likes to stir pots.

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 8:59 am • linkreport

@Navid
I live in an apartment in DC and I support keeping height limits.

by Doug on Jan 16, 2014 9:00 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D:
This from a guy who can't wait to impeach Obama for being president. Me thinks Issa likes to stir pots.
Of course he does, but how relevant are the details about Issa here? He happens to be right.

If the feds offer to relax the rules so that DC can have a little more latitude to change height restrictions later, and DC says "no thanks," then how is that not DC saying they don't want authority?

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 9:03 am • linkreport

Uh, because we are all taxpayers here.

True, but Democracy isn't conducted via a poll. You don't ask everyone "should we raise taxes, yes or no?"

The context of the question matters. The phrasing of the question matters. Ask DC residents if the heights of buildings should be locally controlled or imposed on the city via Congress, and see if you get a different result.

Frame the question differently: Adding population in cities is a key part of fighting climate change. Given the need for additional growth, do you support increasing allowed building heights in DC?

Put the location growth in terms of a tradeoff: Growth forecasts suggest that DC will need to add X number of housing units in Y years. Would you prefer to upzone your neighborhood? Or would you prefer to increase building heights downtown?

by Alex B. on Jan 16, 2014 9:04 am • linkreport

Alex B, there are plenty of available places in the city to live. Not everyone can live in the most trendy spots. Too bad too sad your dad

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 9:06 am • linkreport

The cynic in me says a lot of the support comes from thinking the demand is coming from the new construction and not the other way round. So in so far as you can prevent new construction you can keep prices down.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 9:07 am • linkreport

And within the next year, my neighborhood just increased rentals by about a thousand, all within the current height limits and in a relatively small area.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 9:08 am • linkreport

drumz, look at Navid's link associated with his name, lol

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 9:10 am • linkreport

@charlie,

It is probably someone who is in the military. You are allowed to register your car in your home state, hence why I have seen a few HI, AK and even a Guam plates floating around.

by RJ on Jan 16, 2014 9:11 am • linkreport

@drumz: Yes, as we have seen in discussions here, there is a lot of misunderstanding of how housing markets work.

I think most DC residents see taller buildings as a hallmark of gentrification, so therefore allowing anything taller would mean more gentrification. They don't think about how refusing to build more housing is what is causing gentrification to spread far and wide.

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 9:11 am • linkreport

Oh Jackie please, I've been here for 13 years and I think the height limit is silly. How long have you been in DC then?

by BTA on Jan 16, 2014 9:14 am • linkreport

I love gentrification. The more the better. I am a lifelong resident, over 57 years. But I am adamantly against raising height limits for aesthetic reasons.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 9:17 am • linkreport

@BTA: Do you think Jackie was attacking you personally by commenting on a slight difference in response by DC tenure? I'm not sure how challenging everyone on how long they've lived here is helpful.

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 9:17 am • linkreport

"Or would you prefer to increase building heights downtown?"

I really don't see how increasing office space downtown -- which is a bit overpriced -- is going to help add more housing.

by charlie on Jan 16, 2014 9:18 am • linkreport

@NE John: It's great that you already have housing you can afford, so that you are able to be so adamant about aesthetic reasons since the height limit doesn't affect you much. But the reality is that the height restrictions are raising housing costs, especially for new residents.

I get that many DC residents don't care about newcomers, but it would still be nice not to ignore the impact on them.

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 9:20 am • linkreport

I believe the results of the height limit poll to be accurate; it just means that those of us in favor of height limit increases need to do more to educate about the downsides of the limit.

People absolutely do not understand the downsides - they only understand some idea of how it keeps those long distance views everywhere.

by MLD on Jan 16, 2014 9:20 am • linkreport

@charlie beat me to the liver joke :)

@Thayer-D, I don't care for Issa but he makes a good point. Even if our current leaders don't want to modify the height limit, it should be a local decision when it comes time to revisit the idea.

@NE John, yes there are some places that can be built out in the District, but you're overlooking the accessibility of these locations to jobs. Should we be adding density to areas with no Metro service without considering the auto traffic they will generate and figuring out where to store their cars?

by dcmike on Jan 16, 2014 9:21 am • linkreport

I don't care how you poll the height restriction, a majority will continue to oppose raising it. Personally, I think five major reasons are at work.

(1) DC residents take pride in the unique character of this city, and part of that pride is associated with the height restriction.

(2) The principal beneficiaries of a height restriction will be developers, and not ordinary residents. That will be the prevailing view, and quite frankly, it's probably right. Raising the height restriction to achieve higher density will be nothing more than trickle-down economic development, if that.

(3) DC's quality of life is connected to the height restriction. The District has a human-scale quality, with light and vistas. Who wants to lose that?

(4) Most office buildings and apartment complexes are ugly. Sinfully ugly. They lack imagination, and are built to achieve maximum cost efficiency. DC has some striking architecture, and I don't think people want to see it choked-off by mindless high-rises, or even a few more stories added to the boxy glass rows of K Street.

(5) People in DC are pretty smart. They get the wonk arguments for raising the height-limits, but may have a better grasp of the risks than the people championing an increase. If the average resident doesn't see any real economic benefit, the risks involved will own a very large share of the decision pie. In sum, raising the height limit just isn't worth it to them.

by kob on Jan 16, 2014 9:22 am • linkreport

BTA,
Slow your roll. I didn't come up with the data, the Post did via the poll, so your anger is clearly misdirected.

And I've lived here for 16 years, not that it makes one bit of difference.

by Jackie on Jan 16, 2014 9:22 am • linkreport

Charlie wrote:
What we don't have is a market for 3-4 bedroom condos for families who want an urban environment.

Yep. This is why I think DC will continue to remain a population with not many children.

by Fitz on Jan 16, 2014 9:23 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D
Talk about disingenuous, equating rejection of an increased building height with wanting self determination. Those two things have nothing to do with eachother. This from a guy who can't wait to impeach Obama for being president. Me thinks Issa likes to stir pots.

The Council didn't reject height limit changes, they rejected having control over any changes to the height limit. It was, in fact, entirely about self-determination. It absolutely was a stupid move that set back advancement of home rule.

by MLD on Jan 16, 2014 9:23 am • linkreport

It's sad that people think that rents will fall if the height restrictions are repealed. Developers will not build low cost housing but rather "Luxury" developments which will increase the average rents and condo prices compounding the DC's housing affordability issue. The main driver in the increasing housing (and rental) pricing is speculation by both house flippers and Large corporate real estate developers. Flippers buy up affordable housing by using all cash offers which are preferred by real estate agents excluding first time and lower income buyers. Once the house has been flipped, it raises the comparable sales in the area increasing the appraised value for other houses coming to market. This is the root of the residential housing cost spiral. Developers do pretty much the same thing by buying existing properties and redeveloping that or by doing luxury "green field" developments gentrifying middle income neighborhoods raising the average market rent.

What needs to be done is either a progressive flip tax on short term speculation (2-3 year holding period) and a stronger affordable housing allotment for new developments and rehabs.

Another thing to think about is that Langley and Potomac have very strict zoning laws preventing large scale commercial and residential development and that's where the executives live of the companies who are lobbying and paying for all of the PR (paid posters on forums like this and press releases published by the WP).

So if you still want the height restrictions lifted then go to Rosslyn and walk around or better yet go for a walk in Tyson's Corner and decide if that's where you would like to over pay for housing.....

by DSS10 on Jan 16, 2014 9:23 am • linkreport

Gray, I bought my parents house in a neighborhood no one wanted to live in, at that time. Now things are different here. To younger buyers I advise looking in Anacostia or other "less desirable" areas and buy. Same thing then, same thing now.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 9:25 am • linkreport

Gray,

Basically, and those arguments are still contentious on here and we have the stereotype of being pro-gentrification. I don't know if there is anything new to say though in light of these results.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 9:26 am • linkreport

@ Gray,

"If the feds offer to relax the rules so that DC can have a little more latitude to change height restrictions later, and DC says "no thanks," then how is that not DC saying they don't want authority?"

That's not the same thing as self-determination. The feds allowing us to "relax the rules" to change the limit is not the same thing as giving us full representation. In other words, if DC had it's own representation in Congress and they polled DC again, how would the results differ? The main reason DC is against raising the height limit is what NE John said, aesthetic reasons, as hard as that is to swallow.

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 9:28 am • linkreport

At least anecdotally, most people I talk to have no idea how the height limit functions and what the proposed changes would be, for or against. We won't be building skyscrapers anytime soon, guys.

The thing about self-governance is that we'd be able to make even modest tweaks that could make a big difference, such as adding flexibility without changing the absolute height.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 16, 2014 9:32 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D

It's more autonomy, just like budget autonomy, etc. That's worthless because it doesn't get us 100% of the way to the ultimate goal? Wow.

by MLD on Jan 16, 2014 9:32 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D: It's not the same thing as self-determination, but it's quite close. It's inconsistent to say that it's very important for DC to have control over its own laws, regulations, and services . . . but when offered slightly more control over one set of regulations, DC says it doesn't want it.

If DC doesn't want to relax the height restrictions, that's fine. But they were being offered the opportunity to control any changes (or keep changes from happening), and the council said they didn't want that possibility of control.

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 9:33 am • linkreport

Congressman Jim Moran (D-VA) will not run for re-election.

Zimmerman for Congress!

I am sure there are a few hawaii plates in the DC area, but why do I doubt they have used the lanes?

There are not only HI plates, but also PR and Guam. Military people get to keep their home state tags. Higher brass can afford the tolls.

You don't ask everyone "should we raise taxes, yes or no?"

Not in the US. In other countries, it is very normal that left-leaning parties argue for higher taxes. In fact, president Hollande of France campaigned on it, got elected, and got a 75% tax on rich people legislated.

@ kob:Most office buildings and apartment complexes are ugly. Sinfully ugly.

That is because ordinary citizens who get involved with ANCs, hyisteoric preservation committees and the C100 dinosaurs do not allow any interested architecture in DC.

by Jasper on Jan 16, 2014 9:33 am • linkreport

NE John,

Great, and once Anacostia gentrifies (and Deanwood and Benning Park and wherever else) what then? Too bad? If that's what you want but the whole "move somewhere cheaper" is a pretty limited argument in a city that's only 67 square miles.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 9:33 am • linkreport

It's sad that people think that rents will fall if the height restrictions are repealed. Developers will not build low cost housing but rather "Luxury" developments which will increase the average rents and condo prices compounding the DC's housing affordability issue. The main driver in the increasing housing (and rental) pricing is speculation by both house flippers and Large corporate real estate developers. Flippers buy up affordable housing by using all cash offers which are preferred by real estate agents excluding first time and lower income buyers. Once the house has been flipped, it raises the comparable sales in the area increasing the appraised value for other houses coming to market. This is the root of the residential housing cost spiral. Developers do pretty much the same thing by buying existing properties and redeveloping that or by doing luxury "green field" developments gentrifying middle income neighborhoods raising the average market rent.

Right, because real estate is uniquely immune from the laws of supply and demand.

Flippers of a symptom of an imbalance between supply and demand, not a cause. Increasing the supply addresses that imbalance.

by contrarian on Jan 16, 2014 9:34 am • linkreport

When a huge number of people think that the height limit is based on the height of the washington monument, I'd say there is still a lot of mis-understanding regarding it.

If buildings weren't allowed to be taller than the washington monument we could have 500' buildings.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 9:35 am • linkreport

drumz, I am only addressing the bogus argument of "no space, but up"

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 9:36 am • linkreport

Jasper,

Naw, Zimmerman is better off in his niche role as the smart growth guy.

Moran was an alright moderate democrat, but the district is ripe for someone more liberal as well.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 9:38 am • linkreport

@DSS10: I live in DTSS, which doesn't have the height restrictions but has plenty of arguments about whether we should build more housing . . . and still a housing shortage.

What I have noticed is that older buildings a mile from the metro are asking ridiculous rents, like $1600 for a 1BR. Obviously, developers won't swoop in and build more old buildings a mile from the metro so that there are more of them and the prices go down. What they will build is new, tall buildings of luxury or pseudoluxury apartments and condos. Many of the people who will live in those buildings then won't be looking for apartments in older buildings a mile from the metro, and we can finally get some decline in the upward pressure on prices for those buildings. That's how we get housing that is actually affordable: not in the new buildings in the best locations, but in those other buildings that are slightly less desirable still transit-accessible. And that's the kind of thing you make possible by building taller buildings.

It's also worth noting that with any of the slight relaxations of the height restrictions that are possible, we wouldn't see buildings in DC remotely approaching the height of buildings in Rosslyn or DTSS.

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 9:39 am • linkreport

Plus, "UrbanTurf has already projected that 2014 will be the year of the renter in the DC area. That’s because the number of new buildings going up in the region is catching up with (and in some cases surpassing) demand."

And this was done with-in the current height restriction???
I don't believe it, there must be something suspect with this poll.

http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/rent_drops_slightly_in_districts_class_b_apartments_as_vacancy_rises/7992

As for the never ending discussion about if we have more land to build on, again props to NE John. My friends thought I was crazy for moving to Logan Circle 15 years ago also. Sad thing not everyone can afford to live in Logan Circle and vacation in Martha's Vinyard. From what I hear, there's plenty of land in say, Lincoln Heights, except developers are waiting for urban pioneers with gearless bikes to move in first.

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2014/01/09/what-does-lincoln-heights-struggle-portend-for-barry-farm/#more-33170

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 9:42 am • linkreport

NEJohn,

Well that's a strawman argument as well. In fact higher heights downtown could mean a speeding up of development in places EOTR, especially as jobs that could've been located in VA or MD can now be more easily put in DC. It doesn't have to be zero-sum.

That said, if one's concern for the aesthetics of lower height trump all other considerations then it is what it is but I'd rather have a more affordable city and I think taller buildings all over is necessary if not sufficient.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 9:43 am • linkreport

NE John wrote:
I am only addressing the bogus argument of "no space, but up"

I think that's a minority viewpoint. I think many people recognize that it's marginally easier to increase the housing supply by increasing the height limit rather than simply redeveloping existing parcels of land within the current height restrictions.

by Fitz on Jan 16, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

@ drumz,
"the whole "move somewhere cheaper" is a pretty limited argument in a city that's only 67 square miles."

I simply don't understand the fasination with DC's boarders. People aren't restricted to living with-in DC to have the city lifestyle that seems to be in demand. Projects like the Purple Line and Arlington's various streetcar proposals will bring the in demand lifestyle to many more areas. Increasing the supply of transit oriented living is different than having to cram everybody within 67 square miles. Good luck in Barnaby Woods to name one hood that's more inconvenient than many outside locals.

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 9:46 am • linkreport

With regards to the no space but up argument. Look at people trying to building on empty lots in Van Ness (5333 Conn) and Friendship Heights (I think). Both locations right near the metro, both by right, and both being fought vehemently by neighbors. People try to squash every new development that comes to an area around here that creates a second restriction on density/heights.

by jj on Jan 16, 2014 9:49 am • linkreport

"I think many people recognize that it's marginally easier to increase the housing supply by increasing the height limit rather than simply redeveloping existing parcels of land within the current height restrictions."

So we should give up DC's character to make it "marginally easier" for developers to make their money? Thankfully, 60% of the city doesn't see it that way.

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 9:50 am • linkreport

Thayer,

We've been over the political and practical reasons of why the borders do matter. Even if they're arbitrary.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

@jj

Exactly. There's too many tools for those who oppose developments.

by Fitz on Jan 16, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

jj, some people tried that here in Brookland, but thankfully failed. Now we have a bit of height-limited smart growth including 1000 new residences.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

jj,
That's a very good point, but it unfortunatly doesn't make the case for getting rid of what makes DC so unique and loved by a great many of its residents. DC's lack of spine to enforce by-right regulations and find a sensible way to further increase housing capacity is the real problem, not that someone fears change. Show DC residents the whole story with a truly comprehensive analysis of the pro's and con's and maybe the vote will flip around.

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

@Neil: At least anecdotally, most people I talk to have no idea how the height limit functions and what the proposed changes would be, for or against. We won't be building skyscrapers anytime soon, guys.

Exactly. It's the same thing when people are polled about the gas tax. Are you in favor of increasing the gas tax? No!

But when you inform people that the increased tax is necessary to just keep pace with inflation, and that the current gas tax isn't indexed to inflation at all, then their position changes substantially.

@kob

DC residents take pride in the unique character of this city, and part of that pride is associated with the height restriction.

The proposed changes in the report wouldn't alter the character of the city that much. If we implemented those changes by fiat, and construction started tomorrow, I doubt most people would even notice - just the same way they don't know that the gax tax isn't indexed to inflation, and just like how most don't know that there are already excess-height buildings along Pennsylvania Ave.

The principal beneficiaries of a height restriction will be developers, and not ordinary residents. That will be the prevailing view, and quite frankly, it's probably right.

No, it isn't: developers don't just make moneyout of the blue, they make money by selling their products to us and to our employers. Those costs get passed through to all of us. They're part of the cost of doing business in a city, the same way that a grocery is part of the cost of doing business in preparing food.

If anything, restricting development favors the rentiers that currently own property - they will face less competition and can charge higher and higher rates for the same space.

DC's quality of life is connected to the height restriction. The District has a human-scale quality, with light and vistas. Who wants to lose that?

Nobody wants to lose that. However, look at the long-shot massing renderings from the OP study, and the result is that increased heights in DC look pretty much the same as they do today.

by Alex B. on Jan 16, 2014 9:54 am • linkreport

Hmm, people from all 50 states have used the express lanes?

They didn't say "on purpose", just "used".

by Falls Church on Jan 16, 2014 9:56 am • linkreport

drumz,
The boarders matter to some and not to others. I personally haven't run into many people who cared where their lively and convenient neighborhood was located, unless we're talking about schools, at which point they got the heck out of dodge.

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 9:56 am • linkreport

Thayer-D wrote:
So we should give up DC's character to make it "marginally easier" for developers to make their money?

That's a strawman. First of all, DC's supposed "character" is undefined. I think most would agree that it's not exclusive to the height of buildings. Secondly I never argued the height limit should be modified for the sake of developers, I said it should be modified to allow the housing supply to increase. Please address my arguments.

by Fitz on Jan 16, 2014 9:57 am • linkreport

Also, I'm going to have to directly counter the argument that the height limit is what makes DC unique. It's one thing sure but I doubt the smithsonian, or the capitol, or the mall, or Georgetown, if all of a sudden there were 200ft tall buildings on K street. Again, a lot of people think the height limit is based on the size of the washington monument.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

Alex,
Are you considering the Urban Turf article where they said,

Rents Drop at DC Area’s Class B Apartments as Vacancies Rise

"2014 will be the year of the renter in the DC area. That’s because the number of new buildings going up in the region is catching up with (and in some cases surpassing) demand."

As NE John has pointed out, demand is being met, with in the 110' height limit. Where's the fire?

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 9:59 am • linkreport

Thayer-D, there are good schools here, very good ones. You must pay. Those who stick it out here and pay are the ones who truly love DC, who have the "character" of DC etched permanently in their beings.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 10:01 am • linkreport

What needs to be done is either a progressive flip tax on short term speculation

Flippers add to the housing stock, not takeaway. They renovate dilapidated, vacant buildings or carve up a building into multiple units. Homebuyers don't have the cash necessary to fix up dilapidated or outdated buildings.

Actually, what you don't want is long-term speculators who land-bank vacant properties. You want to get those properties into their best and highest use.

Also, there's already a tax on flipping. It's the capital gains tax and there's a higher rate for short-term cap gains.

by Falls Church on Jan 16, 2014 10:05 am • linkreport

Great, and once Anacostia gentrifies (and Deanwood and Benning Park and wherever else) what then?

Then, onto Capitol Heights and PG's many other underdeveloped metro stations.

Although, realistically it's going to take a long time before EOTR approaches anything that looks like even Petworth (much less Logan).

by Falls Church on Jan 16, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

Where's the fire?

We're talking about different timescales here.

You change the height limit for the long-term. You're talking about year over year changes in rent.

Just as the climate deniers were aburdly and incorrectly asserting that the polar vortex disproved global warming, the slight dip in rents based on one year of growth (and charlie's notation that rents are still way up compared to 4 years ago) is not proof about the longer-term trend.

As NE John has pointed out, demand is being met, with in the 110' height limit.

Demand is being met, for now (and again, this is debateable, given the rents that are still well above previous years). But the height limit discussion isn't about 'now,' it's about the next 100 years. And it's about the city's right to make those decisions for itself.

by Alex B. on Jan 16, 2014 10:08 am • linkreport

The poll about the Height Act restrictions probably seems like bad news but the article says both people with landlines and cell phones were called. I assume only people with 202 numbers were called. The article notes that both younger residents and residents who've lived in DC for less than five years are far more supportive of changing the Height Act restrictions.

Most of the 50,000 - 75,000 residents who've moved to DC in the past five years are probably younger and likely only a cell phone (and probably a non-202 number). If this is true, perhaps 45% of DC residents favor changing the Height Act restrictions.

The article also doesn't say how the question was phrased to respondents. If they were informed that historic views will not be compromised and that tall buildings will only be allowed outside the L'Enfant core and DC zoning regulations will still exist, perhaps more than fifty percent of respondents would favor modifying the Height Act.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 16, 2014 10:10 am • linkreport

Falls Church, agree. Anecdotal, but in line with that, there is/was a guy here in NE who owned multiple properties and he sat on them for years. I actually met him while viewing a dilapidated gas station in the hood and he drove up next to me asking what I wanted. I inquired about possibly purchasing the property to develop a sandwich/deli shop that I had dreamed of opening here in this food desert. He told me of his plans to build office space and other ridiculous ideas. That was 15 years ago, and the place is still vacant.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 10:12 am • linkreport

Again, I opponents of changing the Height Act restrictions why an 18-story buiding can be permitted on one side of Western Ave in Friendship Hts and not directly across the street in DC? Neither will have even the slightest impact on any historic or important views that opponents of self-determination claim to be supporting.

Also, we've spent tens of billions of dollars on our metro-rail system. We should allow more people to have the opportunity to live within walking distance of the stations, especially the outer stations.

Finally, one member of the National Capitol Planning Commission cited the special charm and character of Washington as a reason to oppose modifying the Height Act restrictions. Can anyone here tell me what the special charm and character of Van Ness is?

by 202_cyclist on Jan 16, 2014 10:14 am • linkreport

Why didn't you use Blue Plains in your charm argument?

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 10:16 am • linkreport

@NE John

Hey feel free not to raise it, I love all the new development coming to Arlington and Fairfax because DC refuses to address its obsession with "preserving aesthetics" for people who live sometimes miles away from the site of these buildings. That's why I dont understand why the opinion of someone who lives in Petworth for instance, matters for height modifications in Navy Yard for instance; or Chinatown, etc

There will be no affect on the aesthetics of Shepard park by allowing an additional 100' of height for apartments at Nats Stadium

Absolutely ridiculous

But again, feel free to keep that supply artificially low. We in Virginia (and I'm sure many in Maryland) appreciate it.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 16, 2014 10:22 am • linkreport

No surprise here about the popularity of the height limit.

What did surprise me was the resistance to even changing the borders and out-lying areas of DC EOTR (Gray/Barry neighborhoods). Especially the many people from Hillcrest Heights who lobbied a lot to prevent taller buildings at Popular Point which would obstruct their views.

Tregoning's attempt to get Congress to abolish the height limit over the wishes of DC citizens is certainly grounds for firing. Gray will have to cover his tracks on this by blaming her.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 16, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

sour grapes is a good sign

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 10:25 am • linkreport

@Navid:

True but you suffer from all of the highway congestion with people who are priced out of the District and would otherwise like to live close to work. Similarly, Virginia has spent what, hundreds of millions of dollars studying widening I-66 because there is inadequate and unaffordable housing in DC, forcing people to live farther away from their jobs in Washington.

But, NE John, lets panic becuase there might be a 175-foot building in the DC side of Friendship Hts (when there are already 400-foot radio towers in Tenley and welsley Heights)-- closer to the views you claim to care about.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 16, 2014 10:26 am • linkreport

Tregoning was very good for DC, although I believe she was misguided on the height limits in connection with this federal city. She will land on her feet, possibly in NYC under DeBlasio.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 10:28 am • linkreport

It seemed like GGW was finally getting away from raising height as panacea, so its sad to see even more simplistic ideas about "market economics" than usual. The ugly, expensive condos that are near my office in the White Flint area re probably good examples of what would result. And they're not driving down the cost of real estate in this area.

High rises also discourage urbanism. The immediate areas around the buildings around here (WF) are dead. the deadest stretches of downtown Bethsda are near the high rises on Wisconsin or Woodmont, including the ones with ground floor retail and office uses. The newly redeveloped sections of Manhattan provide other examples of this. Low and mid-rise buildings make it easier to use the neighborhood as a front porch. High rises make it easier to never go outside and their scale encourages amenities that make that a selling point.

by Rich on Jan 16, 2014 10:32 am • linkreport

and Issa's philosophy is far far right wing: that corporations shouldn't have any rules set on them by government; not taxes, not environmental rules, and not any type of zoning including height restrictions.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 16, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

Hear here to Kob for a great and succinct summary of our support for height limits!

by Michael on Jan 16, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

Well, I guess @Rich did a good job of pointing out one of the major misconceptions about the height limit. Relaxing it would not mean that we would get Manhattan-height buildings, or even anything close to the height of what we have in Rosslyn or Bethesda. It might mean 15 or 18 story buildings. Other than providing 50% more housing, would those really be all that different from 10 or 12 story buildings?

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Oh yes, I meant to complement kob piece too!

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Falls Church, is there any evidence that flippers add housing? They tend to take safer bets than renters who have to move to a less desirable neighborhood to afford it. They seem much more like a symptom of escalating costs, one that adds to the bubble effects.

That said, there's no evidence that building new buildings raises rents, other than by bringing wealthier residents in.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 16, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Will oppponents of modifying the Height Act please answer this question: why does it matter one bit to residents of Birmingham, Cleveland, and Frenso whether buildings are 120 feet vs. 160 feet next to the Georgia Avenue station or the Friendship Heights station? What faderal role is there in that? It could not be any clearer that this is a Home Rule issue. Nobody is talking about building Dubai-on-the-Potomac.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 16, 2014 10:39 am • linkreport

According to the OP, DC has 182 Million SF of existing multi-family residential units, and 122 million of commercial office, total ~300 million SF of developed space.

Single family attached and detached homes left out of this because despite the fact that approximately 1000 new SF-A and SF-D have been built in DC the past 10 years, with another 1200-1500 in the 10 year pipe line, both sides can admit that’s not where the future residential growth will be.

So we have 300 million of developed space, and according to OP’s recent height limit report we have 270 million SF of developable space within the current bounds of Zoning and Height act to accommodate future growth.

Let me say that again…within the current boundaries of development, DC can nearly double its multifamily and office footprint. Even if DC was able to maintain the ludicrous growth of 2010-2012 (which it can’t as it has already fallen 15% from its 2012 growth numbers) every year in perpetuity, it would take a minimum of 30 years before DC was “out” of space, and we haven’t modified zoning or height limits one iota.

If you, start making logical modifications to zoning aroudn the city to accommodate the growth, something commonplace and that every jurisdiction does (including the District), the developable space left increases by what…25%, or ~65 million SF? Again, no Height limit changes made and now we have ~330 million SF of developable space, more than is currently developed in the entire District.

So in summary, yes…in fantasy land where the WWII level population growth DC saw from 2010-2012 is regained and is sustained forever, office space is consumed 330% faster than it has been the last few years (every year), and residential real estate prices climb double digits per year, and job growth continues unabated at a scolding ~2% per year, the District will run out of developable space in ~40 + years, or ~90+ years when reviewed without the rose colored glasses.

Excuse me if I am not impressed.

by Jackie on Jan 16, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport

202, that is where our boundaries are located.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport

@Neil Flanagan:
Falls Church, is there any evidence that flippers add housing?
Is there a different term you'd like to use for taking undesirable property and improving it to the point that many potential buyers or renters are interested in living there?

To me, that's adding housing. And sure, flippers tend to do shoddy work and focus on short-term gains, but given that they are able to sell their properties they are clearly satisfying a niche in the market.

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

@Rich, those areas around White Flint are certainly more livelier than they were before the high rise condos. As for the high rises in downtown Bethesda that's nonsense. They're all within 2-5 minute walk to lively areas.

by Fitz on Jan 16, 2014 10:43 am • linkreport

@Jackie: Sounds like a college physics problem to me. Assume a frictionless environment, with infrastructure and amenities evenly distributed throughout.

Then, magically, it doesn't matter where new development goes, and we have plenty of space! Problem solved.

by Gray on Jan 16, 2014 10:44 am • linkreport

"Falls Church, is there any evidence that flippers add housing?

I tend to put flippers in the same category as the folks who buy a rowhome and carve it up into condos, so yes...flippers add housing all the time, atleast in the District.

I've watched probably two dozen row homes within a 3 block radius of my house in Columbia Heights be carved up into 4 condos, each one a new housing unit. So where there was once one, now there is 4 on the same foot print.

True, there may have been 4 or 5 people living in that rowhome, but with the Districts 2.17 people per housing unit, now there are ~8.

by Columbia Heights on Jan 16, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

@NE John: You have not answered my question. What federal role is there in telling DC residents we can only have 10 story buildings and not 16 story buildings next to the Minnesota Ave or Van Ness metro stations?

@Rich:
"The immediate areas around the buildings around here (WF) are dead. the deadest stretches of downtown Bethsda are near the high rises on Wisconsin or Woodmont, including the ones with ground floor retail and office uses."

There seems to be plenty of dull and dead zones next to 3-4 story buildings in DC. If it is a dead stretch next to these taller buildings, that is a design and planning issue, not anything inherent in whether a buiding is 100 feet vs 160 feet tall.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 16, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

@Jackie,

Given your argument and in consideration with the demand for housing in DC, then why aren't we seeing more development? Have you ever considered that many factors make it very and very expensive to pursue new developments in DC? Many people want to modify the height act because it would allow a greater supply of housing to be built, and it would certainly be simpler than "logical modifications in zoning."

by Fitz on Jan 16, 2014 10:50 am • linkreport

The height limit destroys value. By placing an arbitrary limit on the amount of tax revenue that could be generated from any specific parcel, DC residents are choosing to bear a greater tax burden themselves. Getting rid of the height limit provides flexibility so that at selected sites, which could be miles away from downtown viewsheds, a waiver to the existing Congress-imposed limit could be granted. The most obvious example is the view across the river to Rosslyn. Do the towers there destroy views of the Mall? No. If anything they enhance the riverfront vista by providing a contrast to the classical architecture. They also generate wads of cash for Arlington, which DC is missing out on. That's why Tregoning- prudently- wants to transfer control of building heights from Congress to DC.

by renegade09 on Jan 16, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

202- wrong- high rises are nothing but vertical gated communities with as little interaction with surrounding neighborhoods as possible.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 16, 2014 10:55 am • linkreport

@Rich
The deadening effect on areas of downtown Bethesda comes from the traffic sewer that is Wisconsin Avenue. Other parts of downtown Bethesda- Woodmont Triangle and Bethesda Row, are thriving through increased density and mixed uses. Same deal in Silver Spring. The idea that downtown Bethesda is somehow 'dead' is bizarre, because rents are astronomical demonstrating very high demand for the area. The biggest problem is the lack of more housing. I wanted to live there, but it was just unaffordable.

by renegade09 on Jan 16, 2014 10:58 am • linkreport

renegade, sometimes nice things cost more

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

I mean Virginia?, get real!

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 11:00 am • linkreport

renegade, sometimes nice things cost more

But you just said it was undesirable because of the dead streets.....

by MLD on Jan 16, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

@Tom Coumaris:

This is a function of building design and planning, not the height of the building.

There are plenty of WWII-era garden apartments are the dead-zones surrounding them and these are thirty feet tall.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 16, 2014 11:03 am • linkreport

@MLD:

But logic does not seem to matter.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 16, 2014 11:04 am • linkreport

Thayer-D, there are good schools here, very good ones. You must pay. Those who stick it out here and pay are the ones who truly love DC, who have the "character" of DC etched permanently in their beings.

Just dropping by to say that this is an absolutely terrifying perspective on both education and residency.

by worthing on Jan 16, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport

@Tom, wow someone tell all those people in every other major world city that they don't know urbanism evidently. Yeesh, way to paint with broad strokes. No one is promoting Corbusier land development. A 100' addition will mean a stimulus to areas which currently viewed as unmarketable to build out (hence the discrepancy between maximum feasible given no economic consideration vs what is actually being built).

Its a weak argument

by Navid Roshan on Jan 16, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport

sometimes nice things cost more

So? We're not talking about the brand value of a Benz vs. Kia. We're talking about places for people to live. There was another article in breakfast links wondering if we should panic because DC doesn't have enough kids. One way to fix that problem is to put taller buildings in so that single people and couples can live in those units while families have more houses to choose from.

by drumz on Jan 16, 2014 11:07 am • linkreport

is there any evidence that flippers add housing? They tend to take safer bets than renters who have to move to a less desirable neighborhood to afford it.

I can point to plenty of buildings/rowhouses in places like Columbia Heights that were designed for fewer people and have now been carved up into multiple units. I can find some specific examples if you want me to.

Flippers also buy a distressed property in a neighborhood like say Woodridge that has a ton of deferred maintenance and is totally outdated and fix it up. Maybe it's an estate sale or the family living there is house rich/cash poor and can't afford to maintain/update it. Or, it's a foreclosure/short sale, although much fewer of those lately. No typical homebuyer has the cash for a down payment plus the $50-$100K it takes to update the place, so without the flipper the housing may still be technically livable but far from the highest and best use.

Flipping is hardly a safe bet. It's impossible to know what kind of problems you're going to find once you start ripping out flooring (uh, oh there's asbestos! or the subflooring is in terrible shape) or try moving walls to open up the kitchen. The shower tile might be hiding soggy wallboard that's full of mold, greatly complicating the bathroom reno.

Also, there are plenty of flippers in "riskier" neighborhoods. Actually, that's where most of the distressed properties exist because people living in fancier neighborhoods have the money to pay their mortgage and maintain their home.

by Falls Church on Jan 16, 2014 11:08 am • linkreport

worthing, it motivates one to be all that they can be in terms of salary, ha ha.

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

MLD, did I say something about dead streets?

by NE John on Jan 16, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

@Fitz,

According to DCRA, there are slightly more than 3,800 residential units that have been entitled and permitted for more than 12 months, that haven't broken ground.

Why haven't the developers moved forward on those units?

Because they’ve seen the risk of doing so, demand is going to get soft, interest rates on mortgages have been increasing over the last year and are likely to increase over the next 12-18 months which affects their buyers affordability, whatever. Point is, even if you take away all the roadblocks like zoning and height etc, you can’t force developers to build things they don’t think meets their profitability requirements or exceed their risk profiles.

Point is, there is still a ton of "low hanging fruit" on the DC development tree, OP has admitted as much, and even if DC meets WWII level growth rates yearly in perpetuity (which of course it won't, and has already slowed from its peak), there is still 40 some odd years of capacity in the District. Hardly alarming.

by Jackie on Jan 16, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

According to the OP, DC has 182 Million SF of existing multi-family residential units, and 122 million of commercial office, total ~300 million SF of developed space.

DC has substantially more office space than that; the 122 million sf number leaves out government-owned office space, which is about 50 million sf.

http://www.downtowndc.org/sites/default/files/uploads/files/reports/pdf/dcbid-stateofdowntown-2012.pdf

according to OP’s recent height limit report we have 270 million SF of developable space within the current bounds of Zoning and Height act to accommodate future growth.

Not quite: we have 270 msf capacity for growth under the Comp Plan. Existing zoning is substantially less than that, around 190 msf. And the lowest growth scenario projects ~160 msf of demand in the next 25 years.

Let me say that again…within the current boundaries of development, DC can nearly double its multifamily and office footprint.

No, we can't - again, we have about 170 msf of office alone in DC, and only 190 msf of existing development capacity for all uses under current zoning.

Even if DC was able to maintain the ludicrous growth of 2010-2012 (which it can’t as it has already fallen 15% from its 2012 growth numbers)

The growth from the past few census estimates comes out to annual 2% growth. That's substantial, but it's far from ludicrous. And it's been sustained.

The other thing about job growth is that you don't need net new jobs in the region to see growth in DC. If you get people moving from the suburbs to live in DC while keeping the same job, you'll see the population growth without the job growth. And given that DC has ~730k jobs within the city and only 358k of the city's residents in the labor force, there's a huge market for people to move closer to work.

by Alex B. on Jan 16, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

Still nobody answering why a 16-story building on the DC side of Friendship Heights will ruin views and harm the special character of DC while directly across the street on the Maryland side of Friendship Heights won't. Better to scream about Manhattan!!!

by 202_cyclist on Jan 16, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

@Alex. B

Not to mention, doesn't that 190 msf additional capacity under current zoning including taking every area of the city and building it up to the max zoning there? I.e. popping up every rowhouse that can have an increase under current zoning, or tearing them down to build something bigger?

by MLD on Jan 16, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

worthing, it motivates one to be all that they can be in terms of salary, ha ha.

Well, at least you're consistent in wanting a barrier to entry for people to be "true" DC residents.

by worthing on Jan 16, 2014 11:28 am • linkreport

@NE John
sometimes nice things cost more
You are making an argument that no building taller than the existing, arbitrary height limit could possibly be 'nice'. Clearly there are places in DC where an exemption to the height limit would be entirely compatible with a 'nice' building. More flexibility in those instances would provide a way to potentially provide many benefits, including larger revenue benefits. It's simply a case of making available the right tools for context-appropriate planning.

by renegade09 on Jan 16, 2014 11:39 am • linkreport

Jackie wrote:

Point is, even if you take away all the roadblocks like zoning and height etc, you can’t force developers to build things they don’t think meets their profitability requirements or exceed their risk profiles.

Modifying the height act would allow developers to change their design for increased profitability, which nullifies your opposition to height changes.

You acknowledge that the costs for development within DC are still astronomically high but refuse to provide meaningful tools which could deflate them, or at least prevent them from continuing to increase at a high rate.

by Fitz on Jan 16, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

@NEJohn
Thayer-D, there are good schools here, very good ones. You must pay.
Actually, there's a plethora of good, free schools for 3-7 year olds. There are slightly fewer for 7-10 year olds, and then it all goes to hell--I'm aware of four currently-operating public or charter schools that are truly excellent for 5th-8th grades (though I'd like to think there's at least a few more), and many for this grade range that are absolute horrors. My family's decisions about educating our offspring has all hinged on seeing them safely through the middle school years--they'll do fine on the younger and older ends.

by ZetteZelle on Jan 16, 2014 11:42 am • linkreport

@Jackie
Let me say that again…within the current boundaries of development, DC can nearly double its multifamily and office footprint.
This is not an argument in favor of the height limit. There is no logical reason for DC to build out to the highest available density at existing sites before raising the height limit at selected sites. Taking back control of building height maximums would allow planning to be sensitive to context and market forces. Retaining the height limit only acts to limit context-appropriate planning and value capture.

by renegade09 on Jan 16, 2014 11:44 am • linkreport

Yep. Back when I was young, I remember when they were building the biggest building in NYC. It was for some guy named Woolworth who owned all those 5 and dimes. It was to tower over that older skyscraper, the Flatiron building.

http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blskyscapers.htm

I would suggest it is equally likely that DC's height limit removal could make for beautiful stuff like this. Hard to make general statements about how these things would be fit into existing density along Wisconsin Avenue, although I would think those would be less like La Defense. As for building in Anacostia near mass transit, those might be more Tyson's like.

by fongfong on Jan 16, 2014 11:51 am • linkreport

Good riddance, Moran! I don't like people who beat up 8-year-olds and wrongfully accuse them of carjacking their taxpayer-financed car!

Good job, DC Council, decriminalising something that most of your constituents want legalised. Who do they work for?

Good job, mayor, for signing the job-killing legislation. I guess DC's currently high minimum wage was not doing enough to keep retailers out of town.

@ Jackie

What survey results told you that?

by Burd on Jan 16, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

@Alex,

Yes, I know...thats why I said "Commercial" office space.

"The growth from the past few census estimates comes out to annual 2% growth. That's substantial, but it's far from ludicrous. And it's been sustained."

By last few census estimates, I am assuming you mean last few years? Well, yes...DC has been "boomtown" for nearly 4 years. No one debates that, but it had everything to do with the largest recession in ~70 years. Not a new paradigm.

DC, at the end of what was then, the biggest economic boom the city had ever seen, was growing 1% per year. In less than a one year period, it doubled to 2%, then increased another 20% in the next 18 months to 2.4%. Most would admit that is highly unsustainable, and as we see the growth rate has been steadily falling for the past 2 years. As reams of history, and economic data tell us, DC will restabilize well under 2%, and will likely be there before this year is out. So making

July 2002 to July 2003: -0.82% decline or -388 residents per month
July 2003 to July 2004: -0.13% decline or -62 residents per month
July 2004 to July 2005: -0.11% decline or -52 residents per month
July 2005 to July 2006: 0.63% growth or 295 residents per month
July 2006 to July 2007: 0.65% growth or 310 residents per month
July 2007 to July 2008: 1.02% growth or 486 residents per month
July 2008 to July 2009: 2.07% growth or 999 residents per month
July 2009 to July 2010: 2.18% growth or 1,075 residents per month
July 2010 to July 2011: 2.40% growth or 1,208 residents per month
July 2011 to July 2012: 2.23% growth or 1,150 residents per month
July 2012 to July 2013: 2.06% growth or 1,085 residents per month

@Renegade

"This is not an argument in favor of the height limit. There is no logical reason for DC to build out to the highest available density at existing sites before raising the height limit at selected sites. "

Nor is it an argument for raising it. And there is plenty of logic surrounding it.

Had DC raised the height limit in 2000, do you honestly believe that U Street, Columbia Heights, Bloomingdale, Shaw, NOMA, the Navy Yard etc...most of those places hadall had laid fallow since the race riots of the 60's, would have seen the enormous growth they have seen? The answer is no. Office development would have focused on the traditionally popular commercial and residential areas.

Most of SE and large swaths of NE, even 14 years into the longest sustained (save for 1 year) development boom the city has ever seen, have largely been ignored and would continue to be ignored in the future if developers aren't "forced" into it.

@Fitz,

"You acknowledge that the costs for development within DC are still astronomically high"

No, I did no such thing. Risk and cost are two completely different things. Developers have thousands of units they've been sitting on for more than a year and could move forward with tomorrow, the only cost to them is sitting on the land they own. No, they decline to move forward because of risk. Risk that the market is and will soften.

by Jackie on Jan 16, 2014 12:24 pm • linkreport

@ renegade09
"There is no logical reason for DC to build out to the highest available density at existing sites before raising the height limit at selected sites."

Except for the one the OP put out, which is it spreads out development to other parts of the city, unless you think (like Navid) that it will invariably show up in Nova or Moco, as if there where no reason to live in those places.

Love your analysis, Jackie!

by Thayer-D on Jan 16, 2014 12:41 pm • linkreport

Jackie wrote:

No, I did no such thing. Risk and cost are two completely different things. Developers have thousands of units they've been sitting on for more than a year and could move forward with tomorrow, the only cost to them is sitting on the land they own.

Quibbling over the difference between risk and cost doesn't strengthen your argument. First of all they're not mutually exclusive. High risk implies higher costs. And sitting on the land is not the only cost to them, there's opportunity costs in not developing, or delaying development, the land as well.


No, they decline to move forward because of risk. Risk that the market is and will soften.

That's still not a good argument to not modify the height limit because, again, you're against allowing options to potentially optimize design.

by Fitz on Jan 16, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

It appears that some height limit advocates see raising the height limit as a potential impediment to spreading development into other neighborhoods. The argument fails on its own merits, as development spread into new neighborhoods in the 1990s and 2000s even before the downtown was built out.

There is no contradiction between transferring control of height limits to DC and wanting to increase density in other neighborhoods. In each case, it is simply a question of matching the most appropriate density to the right context. If a developer, for example, wants to build a 44-story building at Fort Totten metro, I say good luck to them. I would not say- "No! You can't build that until you build 100 12-story buildings in Congress Heights first". That's not how the market works. The developer would just say "Fine, I'll go build my 44-story building in Wheaton and let MoCo take the revenue windfall instead". DC should not miss out on the option to gain new sources of revenue because of a misguided aim to shape the market.

by renegade09 on Jan 16, 2014 1:22 pm • linkreport

RE:contrarian

"Right, because real estate is uniquely immune from the laws of supply and demand.

Flippers of a symptom of an imbalance between supply and demand, not a cause. Increasing the supply addresses that imbalance."

As I stated in my post, the market is distorted by real estate agents who will present a lower all cash offer as opposed to a financed offer from a home owner. The other issue is that real estate agents often times have a purchase contract that gives them listing rights for when the house is put back on the market which distorts the market. It you want to talk about free market forces (which sounds like the ideological stance you have taken) read some Adam Smith to understand that only transparent and open auctions where both buyer and seller have perfect information and access to one another. Realestate agents prohibit this from happening and inflate the market.

Another question you might ask your self is who gets the benefit in appreciation of the home on the final sale. For many people, a home is their largest asset and most of the lower priced sales in a market is by the elderly (or their estates) who have lived on a fixed income for many years. They (or their estate) should receive the maximum value for their home for holding it for many years, not some speculator who remodels the house solely to meet the highest appraised value by adding the crappiest builders grade materials, tons recessed lighting, and exposed brick walls....

As to adding housing units, again this is a arbitrage to increase to increase the $ per square foot equation which the housing stock needed by middle class families. If you look at the $ per sqft of a one bedroom condo as compared to a similar 2 or 3 bed room house you will see at least a 20% higher price per sqft for the 1 bedroom. So the net effect is that middle class housing gets destroyed and more expensive and horribly renovated, units takes its place that both prices out existing and new entrants to the market with the benefits (profits)going to the people who are the source of the problem.....

by DSS10 on Jan 16, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

@DSS10, I didn't realize trulia and redfin and zillow and mls was so opaque. But you are correct in that people without internet access will simply not be able to figure out their own comps.

You do know bringing Adam Smith into this argument on something as public as housing price (which is marketed ad nauseum) may go against your argument yes?

Sales price, sold price, assessed price, etc. all public

by Navid Roshan on Jan 16, 2014 2:15 pm • linkreport

BTW, did you play the long haired blonde guy in Good Will Hunting?


Chuckie: Are we gonna have a problem here?
Clark: No, no, no, no! There's no problem here. I was just hoping you might give me some insight into the evolution of the market economy in the southern colonies. My contention is that prior to the Revolutionary War, the economic modalities, especially in the southern colonies, could be most aptly described as agrarian pre-capitalist.
Will: Of course that's your contention. You're a first-year grad student; you just got finished reading some Marxian historian, Pete Garrison probably. You're gonna be convinced of that 'till next month when you get to James Lemon. Then you're going to be talking about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That's gonna last until next year; you're gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood, talkin' about, you know, the pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.
Clark: Well, as a matter of fact, I won't, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social...
Will: "Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth"? You got that from Vickers' "Work in Essex County," page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you, is that your thing, you come into a bar, read some obscure passage and then pretend - you pawn it off as your own, as your own idea just to impress some girls, embarrass my friend?
Will: See, the sad thing about a guy like you is, in 50 years you're gonna start doin' some thinkin' on your own and you're going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don't do that, and two, you dropped 150 grand on a fuckin' education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!
Clark: Yeah, but I will have a degree. And you'll be servin' my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip.
Will: That may be, but at least I won't be unoriginal. But I mean, if you have a problem with that, I mean, we could just step outside - we could figure it out.
Clark: No, man, there's no problem. It's cool.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 16, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

They (or their estate) should receive the maximum value for their home for holding it for many years, not some speculator who remodels the house

Then they should hire a contractor and get the remodel done themselves. They can take out a home equity loan to do that if they're house rich/cash poor. However, a *good* real estate agent will help get that done for you because that's why you're paying them a commission. If you need a good agent, I'd be happy to refer you to one.

by Falls Church on Jan 16, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

"The argument fails on its own merits, as development spread into new neighborhoods in the 1990s and 2000s even before the downtown was built out"

Ok, specifically where, and what development?

Having lived here in the 90's, I can say from a first hand point of view, any commercial development / redevelopment occured in the city core, within a ~6 block radius of K street.

And residential development / redevelopment occured in highly defined line that didn't pass 16th street, and went west from there. Seeing as my first hand knowledge is indeed anecdotal, I would welcome the name of some new commercial developments (residential too) that occured prior to the DC boomtown kickoff in 2000.

by Jackie on Jan 16, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

"@DSS10, I didn't realize trulia and redfin and zillow and mls was so opaque. But you are correct in that people without internet access will simply not be able to figure out their own comps.
You do know bringing Adam Smith into this argument on something as public as housing price (which is marketed ad nauseum) may go against your argument yes?

Sales price, sold price, assessed price, etc. all public"

I guess you are not aware of "pocket listings" and sales posted in the MLS for "Comp purposes only" with days on market of 1 day. I don't know how familiar you are with the MLS system but it used to be that all you needed was a password to access the system. Now you need a security dongle and real estate agents are under strict guidance from NAR from allowing customers from accessing the sight directly. I can think of perhaps 4 or 5 houses in one neighborhood that have for sale signs out and are not listed yet. So no, its not transparent.

by DSS10 on Jan 16, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

DSS10 --

There's a lot of assumptions in your posting, but I'll try to summarize it by saying you believe that the real estate market isn't a free market because there is a cartel of agents and developers who hold monopoly power over individuals, both as buyers and sellers. Is that fair?

I would disagree. I know realtors and I know people who flip houses. They are sole proprietors for the most part. They hustle, they take risks, but they don't have market power. It is a market of imperfect information, and they take advantage of that imperfect information to buy low and sell high.

by contrarian on Jan 16, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

"They (or their estate) should receive the maximum value for their home for holding it for many years, not some speculator who remodels the house
Then they should hire a contractor and get the remodel done themselves. They can take out a home equity loan to do that if they're house rich/cash poor. However, a *good* real estate agent will help get that done for you because that's why you're paying them a commission. If you need a good agent, I'd be happy to refer you to one.

by Falls Church on Jan 16, 2014"

I agree with you, but I have seen agents not acting in the best interest of their clients.

House 1

Jan 10, 2014
Listed (Active)
$749,900

Jun 17, 2013
Sold (Public Records)
$200,000

House 2

Dec 05, 2013
Listed
$1,395,000 —

Dec 26, 2012
Sold (Public Records)
$350,000

by DSS10 on Jan 16, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

DSS10,

Clearly the houses were worth a lot more "after" someone dumped six figures into it.

As someone said above, either of those home owners could have easily spent the six figures and 6-8 months it took to hire an architect, pay for permits, pay for the general contractor.

There is a lot of money and risk associated with the process, that the original homeowner didn't share or participate in, so why should they get a piece of it?

Lastly, you didn't put the pre 200K or 350K sales price. Those owners probably bought those houses for less than a 100K dollars each, so they profited handsomly for simply living in those houses, the others profited handsomly by spending the money and assuming the risk to renovate them.

by Jackie on Jan 16, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

Jackie,

I'm sorry. None of these houses had capital investments of more than 75K of brown tile in the kitchen and builders grade granite counter tops. As to the risk assumed by flippers, I have seen a couple of them get on the wrong side of a deal lately (i.e.: MLS DC8249719)but but a ~900Mil ROI on 300K for 12 months is obscene. They take money from the seller and eliminate affordable housing stock, and get financially rewarded for it.

by DSS10 on Jan 16, 2014 4:27 pm • linkreport

@Jackie
The Ellington and Adams Station condos were built in the early 2000s, when parts of K Street were still the domain of streetwalkers. Either of those buildings could have been built around K Street but they weren't. Redevelopment spread to local neighborhoods before the height limit was reached in large parts of the downtown. It is therefore fanciful to say that the height limit is the only thing incentivizing developers to target non-core parts of the city. I have yet to hear one good reason not to transfer control of height limits to DC.

by renegade09 on Jan 16, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

They take money from the seller and eliminate affordable housing stock, and get financially rewarded for it.

The flippers are a symptom of a tight housing market with strong demand and very little supply, not a cause.

by Alex B. on Jan 16, 2014 5:19 pm • linkreport

@Jackie

You wrote:
"Even if DC was able to maintain the ludicrous growth of 2010-2012 (which it can’t as it has already fallen 15% from its 2012 growth numbers)"

There is nothing ludicrous about the growth. There are many large cities that had a residential population growth rate higher than DC, even during the recession. Plus, the resounding majority of the DC's area's population boom during the recession happened outside of DC itself. Post recession, DC's population growth rate has not fallen dramatically like the rest of the DC area.

From the Census Bureau's July 2012 population estimate, of the 1,150 net new residents per month, 32.6% of the population increase was from natural increase (baby boom) due to already existing residents.

As DC's total population gets higher, it will be more difficult to maintain the same growth rate as a percentage.

It should be noted that DC has consistently added about 12,000 net new residents a year for 5 years straight now, even with the decreasing growth rate.

by revitalizer on Jan 16, 2014 5:42 pm • linkreport

@Navid- Where does this idea that "urban" world cities have high rises come from? It's absolutely false. London has the Gerkin, the Shard and a couple buildings in Docklands but nothing else. Frankfurt has the CommerzBank. There's few highrises allowed outside of Moscow in Europe. Paris has the Tour Montparnasse which is universally hated. It has la Defense 7 miles out from the center (like Tysons here).

And Paris has a raging fight going on over proposal to build high rises 4 or 5 miles from the center. The Greens are fighting high rises as environmental disasters (which they are) and most French view them as inhumane and anti-social. The Paris socialist government may well fall together with President Hollande partly because of the proposal to allow high-rises 4 miles out. The revolt against allowing taller buildings in Paris makes the discussion here seem like a love fest.

The phallic obscession with high-rises is a provincial American, Asian and Middle Eastern thing. Cleveland, Detriot, Indianapolis, Dubai, Kuala Lampur. NYC, Hong Kong and Tokyo have to have them for lack of room. San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney and a few other peninsula cities allow them in certain commercial areas downtown to preserve very low height residential areas. But generally in Europe, which is pretty urbane, they're seen as ugly and destructive to the extent of near barbaric.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 16, 2014 10:46 pm • linkreport

London has way more than "just a couple" of tall buildings.

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

The overall density is way higher. For all the talk of light and air regarding DC,London would be a poor example considering it's street widths are much narrower creating much bigger ratios than DC.

Now, London has decided that it can handle tall buildings and protected view sheds. They even have a protected view shed of over 10 miles from the top of Richmond Hill to the dome of St. Pauls Cathedral.

London would be a great model to emulate but I don't think that's what you're arguing.

by drumz on Jan 17, 2014 8:46 am • linkreport

Indeed, I think the way London has done it is absolutely the model to emulate. Would work very well in DC. In addition you could allow taller buildings (above current height limit but not necessarily 30+ story skyscrapers) in outlying areas where viewsheds do not exist.

by MLD on Jan 17, 2014 8:53 am • linkreport

Also, RE: THERE AREN'T ANY SKYSCRAPERS IN EUROPE, I direct you to:

http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=626162

Seriously, "phallic obsession?" "Barbaric?" It's like we're back in 1910 here.

by MLD on Jan 17, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

I think the point Tom was making is that the amount of skyscrapers is negligable to the extent that Americans understand skylines. Even cities like Hamburg, Rotterdam, or Milan, not usually thought of as the cute European cities we all love have skylines that would rival a Cleveland or Dallas in terms of height. Maybe that will change in the next 10 years and they will see the wisdom of 40-60 story skylines surrounded by 1-3 story city blocks, but let's hope not.

"The overall density is way higher. For all the talk of light and air regarding DC,London would be a poor example considering it's street widths are much narrower creating much bigger ratios than DC."

This whole idea of ratio, while useful, kind of blows apart if taken too litterally. Take the ratio of street in a medeaval city like Sienna or Florence. That ratio might be 1 to 7, just a guess. Most of us would say those cities are fine examples of humane urbanism, of which their heights are but one characteristic. Sun angles don't change, so you'd get the same amount of direct light however the ratio was duplicated. But would the livability and quality of a street be the same on a typical American city street?

On a 100' wide American "avenue" that would mean 700' tall buildings. Same amount of light but vastly different quality urbanism, at least to most people with all senses working.

by Thayer-D on Jan 17, 2014 9:40 am • linkreport

@Tom

Paris also has la defense, one could argue thats the roll Arlington places I suppose, but atleast in the case of Paris its inside the city limits.

You pointed out the handful that are the exception to global cities you understand right? Barcelona, Berlin, Marseille, Dublin, Warsaw, and by the way you are understating the high rises in London. Even the mid rises (which are plentiful) by DC standard would be high rises.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 17, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

*Role Arlington plays

by Navid Roshan on Jan 17, 2014 1:26 pm • linkreport

La Defense is split among 3 towns but none of them are Paris. It's outside the city limits. And Paris has a height limit of 6 stories, even in the central business district. In distance it's more like Tysons Corner than close-in Arlington. La Defense has almost no residents; no one sane wants to live in human file cabinets.

I've lived in both Berlin and Amsterdam and those high rises in Amsterdam are nowhere near the center. Berlin has really few even semi-tall buildings. Madrid does have tall buildings as does Frankfurt but London limits them severely.

Cities in Europe with high rises are the exception. The norm there is the four to six story walkup in the cities with high rises delegated to the suburbs. The American model is high rises in the center with low buildings in the suburbs. DC follows the European model. Because of this we don't have slums and undeveloped land encircling tall buildings downtown like most American cities do.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 17, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

Paris proper is also 2/3 the size of DC proper so outside the city limits isn't all that convincing. Rosslyn and Crystal city are geographically close to the Mall than Friendship Heights. In or out of the city is kinda semantics.

by BTA on Jan 17, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

Um Tom, you must be cray cray. I go to Paris on a bi-annual basis. La Defens is literally across the Seine. Its about 2 miles from the Arc; 15 minute by foot even by normal walking speed.

How far is Arlington from Foggy Bottom again? :D

You are correct to say that it is split, the La Defens I speak of in reference to Paris is the one located directly on the edge of Zone 1 similar in arrangement (in fact almost mirrored) that of Arlington and DC.

And much like DC, it is also in outer areas (just like the CIA is in Langley and FBI soon to be Springfield... oh no he didnt...) etc

And no one is saying put them in the historic centers. The center of commerce could be on the outside of the city, it is the most popular proposal afterall for the height limit reduction).

You are correct in the population being largely outside of La Defens, though I disagree with your assessment that only insane people want to live in towers (again calling all of South East Asia, NYC, Sea, Chicago, and myself crazy is not a very nice thing to do).

You do know that a 700sf 1br in Paris costs 900,000 euro right? Who are the insane again?

by Navid Roshan on Jan 17, 2014 2:56 pm • linkreport

La Defense is between 6 and 7 miles from the center of Paris. Rosslyn is much closer to the center of DC and many Europeans would be appalled at having high rises that close to a historic city center.

Navid thought Paris collected taxes from la Defense.

by Tom Coumaris on Jan 17, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

Are you saying from Ile de la cite? Why not use Capitol Hill for your reference then. About 5 miles from there to Rossyln. I think we are talking semantics at this point as to what is considered the "center of the city".

If you wanna talk population centers, then in Paris using the 8th which is similar to the golden triangle in DC is a fairly applicable analogy.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 17, 2014 3:34 pm • linkreport

For that matter, if you want to go geographic center, then Petworth I believe is dead center. Thats a hell of a walk though

by Navid Roshan on Jan 17, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport

Many Europeans might not be fans but London has huge buildings with a few miles of city center, so does Madrid, and many other cities around the world (Vancouver, Sao Paulo, Cape Town, Sydney etc etc). Not a strictly American idea. I was just reading an article about the rise in tall construction in Oslo.

by BTA on Jan 17, 2014 3:40 pm • linkreport

Sorry, wish there was an edit button so I wouldnt have to add a new comment. If you go back and read what I wrote I acknowledge the situation was similar to DC and Arlington. I haven't confirmed whether La Defense real estate taxes apply to city or if it has its own local structuring. Either way I noted it is indeed on the outskirts of the city like Arlington is.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 17, 2014 3:41 pm • linkreport

Looks like just about every major European city has a tower over 400' which is way more than most of us would even propose for DC. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_buildings_in_Europe

Also Berlin has two buildings under construction planned for over 300'.

by BTA on Jan 17, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

@BTA, in fairness the Washington monument is 555' :P

by Navid Roshan on Jan 17, 2014 4:01 pm • linkreport

The top of the Washington Monument is 555 feet above ground level.

However, the highest building relative to sea level is the National Cathedral. The Cathedral is only 301 feet tall, but the base of the Cathedral is 375 feet above sea level, making the top 676 feet above sea level.

The base of the Monument is at most 40 feet above sea level, so its total height above sea level is no more 595 feet above sea level.

And the Monument is the tallest "structure" in Washington, but not the largest "building" - the latter is the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, at 329 feet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_buildings_in_Washington,_D.C.

by Frank IBC on Jan 18, 2014 5:11 pm • linkreport

I'm not surprised by the poll numbers, mostly because not one single candidate for Mayor has come out in favor of raising the limit - not even Tommy Wells. Certainly, they've all done their research and they know what the people want.

So, I always knew that the majority disagreed with me. That is no reason to change my beliefs or to quit trying to change minds and laws. So, no NE John, I will not "get off your lawn". We're in the middle of a very high-stakes game of flashlight tag right now, and your lawn is in-bounds.

The majority, it turns out, is often wrong. Most Americans think that George Washington had wooden teeth (He didn't). So if they can be wrong on verifiable facts, then they can easily be wrong on opinions. I've been wrong on things that the majority believed ("Hillary Clinton is an unstoppable juggernaut" I said in 2006). So, I'm not too worried about it, except that our leaders are all elected and they care about what the majority want. That just means that we have some convincing to do, not that we're wrong. When I look at all the people who have "evolved" on gay marriage, it's especially not worrisome - that is a much more complicated change. And the more that people move here from somewhere else, the easier it will be to swing the majority the other way.

For those who see this as some sort of justification for the height limit, I hope that means you'll see it as equal justification to the contrary when the polling inevitably flips.

by David C on Jan 18, 2014 10:58 pm • linkreport

Frank, it is interesting you brought up the tower at the Shrine.

I used to be a tour guide at the National Shrine when I was 15-16 back in the early 70's. We "borrowed" the master key regularly and climbed up to the top of the tower. The city view was a transformative experience for me. I expected to see different landmarks that I knew from ground level, but what I actually saw was green, more than 90% green!

I also will never forget one particular crazy tour guide from VA who walked on top of the ledges like he was going to fall and freaked me out. We also had snowball fights between the dome and tower. Tower always won because no one could reach the tower from the dome.

by NE John on Jan 19, 2014 11:47 am • linkreport

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