Members of the 12-person commission studying height limit changes for buildings in Washington, D.C., are unlikely to recommend allowing skyscrapers in certain areas of the city, its chairman says.
The National Capital Planning Commission is tasked with reviewing the century-old height limits and offering a draft report this fall with recommendations for Congress to consider.
"We think that the law as written has served the district well. It has produced a beautiful city that had a good human scale to it," NCPC Chairman Preston Bryant told U.S. News in an interview. "We don't see anything overly broken."
The commission's members include three presidential appointees, the secretary of defense, the secretary of the interior, the head of the General Services Administration, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., the mayor and city council chairman of D.C. and two mayoral appointees.
The cabinet secretaries rarely attend meetings, says Bryant.
Peer cities evaluated by the commission as possible examples included Paris and London, which have both iconic skyscrapers and historic landmarks. But for fast-growing Washington, D.C., any postmodern marvel of multi-colored glass will have to be built across the Potomac River in Virginia.
"We haven't taken a position yet on anything," Bryant said, but "we're not contemplating skyscrapers."
The most dramatic height limit proposals under consideration range from around 200 to 225 feet, Bryant said.
Regulation of D.C. building heights came into force with the passage by Congress of the Height of Buildings Act of 1899. The legislation was in response to the building of The Cairo, an apartment building that at 164 feet towered above its neighbors.
Current federal law – dating from 1910 - prevents buildings over 130 feet along D.C. commercial streets, with the exception of a small strip along Pennsylvania Avenue, where buildings can rise to 160 feet. Residential streets have lower height limits.
Models offered by the NCPC and the D.C. Office of Planning show the possible impact of taller buildings on the city skyline, with monochrome, concrete-colored boxes creeping higher with new hypothetical building limits. Other scenarios focused on height changes outside the "topographic bowl" that cradles many of the National Mall landmarks.
A citywide increase in height restrictions is unlikely, Bryant said. The three remaining options include recommending no change, suggesting specific areas where heights can rise, or allowing taller buildings along wider streets.
Whatever the recommendations, Bryant expects the NCPC to be in agreement with the city's Office of Planning. Any changes to the height restrictions require congressional approval.