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D.C. Officials Call For Relaxed Height Restriction

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Height restrictions enacted in 1910 keep commercial buildings to just 110 feet.
Joshua Bousel: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshbousel/197722630/
Height restrictions enacted in 1910 keep commercial buildings to just 110 feet.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill held a hearing Thursday afternoon examining whether to loosen height restrictions on buildings in the District.

Height restrictions have remained unchanged since 1910, when the Heights of Buildings Act was passed by the 61st U.S. Congress, but there seems to be growing momentum to loosen them. Commercial buildings are currently limited to being 110 feet tall, and residential buildings are capped at 90 feet. Many witnesses testified that the height restriction numbers were arbitrary.

Natwar Gandhi is the Chief Financial Officer for the Government of the District of Columbia. He says losing or getting rid of those height regulations could help expand the city's tax base.

"Elimination of the height and density restrictions on the District's already limited real property base could be an important step towards maintaining the city's long-term ability to accommodate further growth in population and jobs," said Gandhi.

The University of Maryland's Rodger Lewis is an architect and urban designer. He says it makes sense to overhaul these provisions, at least in certain areas.

"There are places in the District where I believe height limits established decades ago are today inappropriate and unnecessarily constraining, a reflection of outdated planning and zoning practices," says Lewis.

Others argue that the law is designed to keep buildings from obstructing the view of the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Harriet Tregoning is director of the District of Columbia Office of Planning. She says the Height Act is crucial for safeguarding distinctive elements of the city.

"The Height Act has been a defining element in creating the city's skyline, and has resulted in an iconic form in our national capital," says Tregoning.

Mayor Vincent Gray supports efforts to loosen the restrictions, and some Republicans want to allow restaurants and bars to be built above today's height limit as well.

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