Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 10/20/2010

Should D.C. raise its height limit?

By Dan Malouff

Washington's famous height limit has long defined our city's skyline, but is it time to rethink it? With office rents downtown eclipsing those of Manhattan to become the most expensive in the country, some people think so.

Raising the height limit would presumably allow downtown to accommodate more density, which would be great for the region because downtown is where our infrastructure converges. Thus, it is the most appropriate place in the region for more density.

That's a pretty good argument, and in general it makes sense. But Washington's height limit is also an important component of our city's unique character, and raising it might have unintended negative consequences. For example, with land at less of a premium, some developers might build skyscrapers and then surround them with surface parking lots, which would encourage driving and discourage walking, leading to a dramatic increase in traffic congestion. Few American downtowns are as pedestrian friendly as Washington's, and the lack of surface parking lots due to the height limit is a big reason why.

So while I don't think eliminating the height limit wholesale is a good idea, I do think we have some room for improvement. One size doesn't fit all, as everyone knows.

One problem connected to the height limit is that very few people live downtown, since office leases are generally more profitable than residential ones. Any developer who gave up valuable square footage for residential units would be throwing money away. A carefully crafted height bonus giving developers permission to build a few extra floors in exchange for filling them with residences might change that. People living downtown don't have to travel far to commute, so increasing the downtown population would decrease congestion.

Likewise, allowing skyscrapers in underdeveloped areas such as Anacostia might encourage investment there and would do so without impacting the character of the city's monumental core. After all, Anacostia is geographically similar to Arlington, which has used tall buildings very successfully.

These are just a few examples, but ultimately my point is this: While Washington's height limit is an important and deservedly well-loved attribute of our city, carefully crafted modifications to it could make our wonderful city even better. We ought not be afraid to discuss the possibility.

Dan Malouff is an Arlington County transportation planner who blogs independently at BeyondDC.com. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Dan Malouff  | October 20, 2010; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Why I'm not embarrassed by the Baltimore teachers' vote
Next: Don't be dense about D.C. trolleys

Comments

Keep the height limit as it is. It is unique to our city.

Then, if you want, give different incentives to developers to build mixed use buildings for commerical and residential. A "carefully crafted height bonus". No, no bonus. Stop it at X height - and that is it.

We have seen over the last 20 years how businesses/developers ignore regulations, and that city/state and Federal Govt's have NOT effectively regulate what we do have. Sorry, this would be yet another giveaway.

No need to scrap the height limit. DC is fine with it.

Posted by: Greent | October 20, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Developers will build in Anacostia without raising the height limit on buildings.

This idea of raising the height of buildings does not serve the residents of Anacostia. Instead this proposal would destroy the view already enjoyed by many.

This idea simply to puts money in some developers' pockets -- if they can build higher, they can sell more units and charge a premium for the view. Yeah, it will raise some tax revenue, but guess what, taxes are going up in Anacostia anyway as the new vision of Anacostia -- DC's last frontier, is realized.

No, do not change the very character of D.C.'s landscape to fatten a few developers' wallets.

Posted by: carolynbaker | October 21, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Developers will build in Anacostia without raising the height limit on buildings.

This idea of raising the height of buildings does not serve the residents of Anacostia. Instead this proposal would destroy the view already enjoyed by many.

This idea simply to puts money in some developers' pockets -- if they can build higher, they can sell more units and charge a premium for the view. Yeah, it will raise some tax revenue, but guess what, taxes are going up in Anacostia anyway as the new vision of Anacostia -- DC's last frontier, is realized.

No, do not change the very character of D.C.'s landscape to fatten a few developers' wallets.

Posted by: carolynbaker | October 21, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

You could zone Anacostia for unlimited floor-area ratios and no parking requirements, and developers still wouldn't build offices there. It's just not convenient enough for people with money. The new DHS headquarters might bring some cluster office development akin to that surrounding the new DOT headquarters, but it's never going to be Rosslyn or even Silver Spring.

If you look at the development of major peripheral business districts throughout the developed world, almost all of those have been in places that are convenient for the professional class; the socioeconomic characteristics of an area are vitally important to developers, after all. Tysons grew the way it did not merely because it's halfway between downtown DC and Dulles, but because the gentry living in McLean and Great Falls could get there easily. (When you're the boss and you can decide where to put your office, why place it 45 minutes away instead of 15?) Same thing with the Dulles Corridor cluster vis-a-vis eastern Loudoun, White Flint vis-a-vis central MoCo, etc.

Now, the presence of the federal government makes DC different from most urban areas--federal agencies are much less constrained in their location decisions than are private firms--but economic forces still apply here.

I know that there have been a lot of big houses thrown up in southern P.G. County and out in Waldorf in the last 20 years, but if you look at the real estate prices there it's pretty obvious that the people in them aren't especially affluent--regardless of ethnicity. For the affluent of these areas, though, the existing major office cluster adjacent to Old Town Alexandria is arguably as convenient as anything in Southeast--and National Harbor is even more so.

I could see high-rise development in the SW Waterfront and Near Southeast being viable over the long haul, because of these areas' proximity to the urban core and its transit and road connections, but barring a major realignment of wealth in the metropolitan area I don't see trans-Anacostia Southeast as a viable economic cluster in my lifetime.

Posted by: rusholmeruffian | October 21, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company