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Push to Loosen D.C. Height Limits Gains Momentum

Tim Craig reports on a new push by federal and city officials to relax Washington D.C.'s building height restrictions, reopening decades-old debates about the look, feel and character of the city.
April 13, 2012, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Washington D.C.'s iconic low-rise character is, of course, no accident, but rather the result of some of the most restrictive height limitations to be found in any large city in the nation. Dating back to 1899, and strengthened in 1910, buildings are generally limited to a maximum of 130 feet in commercial streets and 90 feet on residential streets. While other cities have been able to modify such regulations over time, "in a city where such change would require a unified Congress and a presidential signature, the District's skyline has been held in check."

Proponents of relaxing the restrictions, including Mayor Vincent Gray and Congressman Darrell Issa, argue that the "city may soon only be able to grow vertically because of scarcity of land and projected population growth." And they see the loosening of regulations, especially outside the core of downtown, as a necessary step to "help the city absorb new residents and businesses."

According to Craig, "The mayor's stance will likely prompt a backlash from some civic groups and preservationists, who have long sought to protect city views."

"We hold these national monuments as a treasure to be viewed and enjoyed and respected by people from all over the world and, for that reason, the current height limitations ought to be maintained. Period," said William P. Lightfoot, a former D.C. Council member. "One story will block somebody's view, and that is wrong."

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Published on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 in The Washington Post
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