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House Passes Bill Allowing Small Change To D.C. Height Act

Building heights in D.C. have been limited for over a century.
Joshua Bousel: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshbousel/197722630/
Building heights in D.C. have been limited for over a century.

The House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill that makes a small change to the Height Act, the 100-year-old law limiting how tall buildings in the nation's capital can get.

Under the bill, existing building penthouses that are used for mechanical purposes can be converted for human use. That means that homes, gardens and restaurants will be able to move higher up on existing buildings, but the longstanding limits on overall heights — which range between 90 and 160 feet, depending on location — will remain intact.

The vote comes a year after Congress called upon the National Capital Planning Commission to study possible changes to the Height Act, which dates back to 1910. Mayor Vincent Gray had long advocated for loosening height restrictions in certain parts of the city, saying that shorter buildings were stunting economic development and keeping housing prices high in a growing city.

But historic preservationists and the D.C. Council objected, saying that taller buildings would mar the city's skyline and lead to New York-style building canyons on city streets.

In September, the planning commission advised Congress to largely leave the law alone while only changing the provision on the use of penthouses.

The measure, which passed 367-16, now heads to the Senate.


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