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Posted at 9:59 AM ET, 10/30/2009

The Building Heights Myth

By editors

By Patty Sheetz

My curiosity was whetted by your Oct. 23 article “Gatekeeper of D.C’s entry” covering a Dupont Circle resident’s editing of the Wikipedia page on the District. The article debunked the myth that no D.C. building can be higher than the Capitol but did not provide the reason why the city’s skyline is so wonderfully low, creating a more human-scale urban environment than in other large cities.

The answer, per Wikipedia (and other sources): Congress passed a law in 1899 limiting building height in the city to no more than the height of the Capitol. That act was amended in 1910 to restrict building height to the width of the right-of-way of the street or avenue that the building fronts, plus 20 feet.

By editors  | October 30, 2009; 9:59 AM ET
Categories:  D.C.  
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The Wikipedia entry on the Height of Buildings Act of 1910 cites a 1994 article by Roger Lewis that includes a statement that the 1899 Heights of Building Act "stipulated that privately built structures could be no higher than the Capitol Building or other significant government edifices."

With all due respect to Roger, this is simply not true. I have a copy of the 1899 act and it restricts the heights of buildings based on the width of the right of way, as does the subsequent 1910 act that is still in force today. The business about no building being able to be taller than the capitol is a myth.

Posted by: ktriarch | November 2, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

For more information on the Height Act see the following GAO report:

Posted by: ktriarch | November 2, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

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