Are DC's Strict Height Limits and Arbitrary Planning Rules Hurting the City?

Two commentaries pick up on the recent push to loosen Washington D.C.'s notoriously conservative height limits, and argue that such controversial changes are overdue and, in fact, don't go far enough.

Josh Barro, writing in The Atlantic, sees the city's height restrictions as only the tip of a much larger land use iceberg. Barro argues that, "the real crisis of land use in Washington goes way beyond the height limit. It's that the District's planning and zoning apparatus is overall hostile to new development, usually allowing far less building that would be permitted by the Heights of Buildings Act of 1910. And while D.C.'s planning rules are restrictive, they are also arbitrary and unevenly enforced, making it a difficult market to enter."

And while he views proposals to relax the restrictions being floated by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Rep. Darrell Issa as a good start to addressing the problem, he argues that "if they really want to revitalize the district and encourage real estate development, they should junk the city's ridiculous approval process for one that offers clear and consistent rules that would apply equally to all developers. That would allow enough density to make use of the District's existing transportation infrastructure."

Writing in Slate, Matthew Yglesias adds his voice to those calling for radical change to D.C.'s land use policies. Yglesias sees the restrictions as stifling the city's economy by increasing prices paid for everything from hotel rooms to office space and housing.

He argues that "More buildings would mean more jobs, and would also mean more people would be able to move to the District and take advantage of the strong economy. After greater New York City and the California coast, the D.C. area is the most expensive place in the country to live...This problem, like the high price of office space and hotel rooms, could be ameliorated by building more units where the land is most valuable. Taller buildings, in other words."

Full Story: Height of Folly: Why Housing in Washington, D.C., Is So Awful


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