Height of Buildings Act

Height of Buildings Act

So I close with a cautionary note.  Be very careful as you gamble with the 100-year legacy of Washington’s Height Act. Take care not too open things up to casually.  I dare say, those height limits may be the single most powerful thing that has made this city so amazingly fulfilling.

Vancouver, B.C. Planner Larry Beasley, CM

Height Master Plan for Washington, D.C.

The National Capital Planning Commission and the District Office of Planning are jointly conducting a Height Master Plan study at the request of Congress.  The study will address the impact of strategic changes to the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910, and the extent to which the Height Act continues to serve the interests of both federal and District governments.  Study related resources are available at: Height Master Study.

The Study is divided into three phases:

  • Phase I Overview, which included a series of discussion of study principles and issues shaping federal and local interests, as well as case studies concluded in June 2013.
  • Phase 2 Modeling, which will be based on studies and planning analysis, identification of opportunity areas for strategic changes to the height Act, will be presented at public meetings in July and August 2013.
  • Phase 3 Draft Recommendations will be presented at public meetings and a hearing in fall 2013.  Following the public hearing, final recommendations will be transmitted to Congress in fall 2013.

Three core principles have been identified to guide the Height Master Plan and related studies:

  • Principle 1:  Ensure the prominence of federal landmarks and monuments by preserving their view and setting;
  • Principle 2:  Maintain the horizontality of the monumental city skyline; and
  • Principle 3:  Minimize negative impacts to nationally significant historic resources, including the L’Enfant Plan.

Additionally, the Height Master Plan will consider impacts to:  capital city image; federal properties and operations; andiIssues important to the future growth of the national capital and local city.

A recent article by Urban Land Institute Senior Fellow Ed McMahon echos many of the opinions of The Committee of 100.  Click here to be directed to the article.  As does a recent piece by Kaid Benfield, Director of Sustainable Communities, Energy & Transportation Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Mr. Benfield’s blog post can be read here.

Committee Documents

icon C100 2012-13 Fight To Preserve The Height Of Buildings Act
2022-06-12, Nancy MacWood
This is a summary of C100 work primarily in 2012-13 when the 1910 Height of Buildings Act was challenged at both the federal and local level.  This summary is in addition to documents below detailing more specific activity, given that this matter will come up again and a review of effective action in 2012-13 may be helpful. 
icon C100 Comments ZC 14-13 Proposed Penthouse Zoning Revisions
November 24, 2014, Nancy MacWood
We believe that this proposal would lead to radical change in the established rhythm of commercial and multi-family blocks, the character of neighborhoods, the infrastructure, the principle of bonus density in exchange for public benefits, and the integrity of the planning process and it should be tabled, if not rejected. The lack of fundamental planning analysis for such a sweeping height increase with accompanying new use intensities is alarming. We urge the Zoning Commission to take a step back and allow the new administration and the DC Council to have robust discussions with DC residents about whether such significant height and use changes are warranted.
icon C100 PR ZC 14-13 Penthouses
November 20, 2014, Laura Richards
Alma H. Gates, Chair of the Committee of 100’s Zoning Subcommittee, protested the scope of the new rules and the speed with which they are being rushed through. “These rules were proposed at a time when Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and civic associations were overwhelmed with the zoning rewrite,” Gates said. “This is a complex set of rules that can change the face and character of our city. They need a broader discussion than they have been given.” Gates urged residents to file testimony immediately opposing the changes and to ask the Zoning Commission to hold the record open and conduct public roundtables. The record closes on November 24, 2014.
icon C100 Testimony Before NCPC regarding Height Act Study
November 19, 2013, Nancy MacWood
The Committee of 100 has historically supported the Height Act, which has provided a height framework for implementing the L’Enfant and McMillan Plans and has contributed significantly to creating our grand capital city. Until today the title of this hearing would be readily understood since “Height Master Plan for Washington, DC” does not suggest that there only some parts of Washington that need height protections. But the EDR before you would irrevocably divide the city into protected and unprotected, and would result in visual documentation of the action you may approve today.
icon 2013-09-09 C100 Letter Mayor Gray HBA Study II
September 9, 2013, Nancy MacWood
The Committee of 100 on the Federal City strongly urges Mayor Gray to convey to the National Capital Planning Commission and Representative Issa his conclusion that the Height of Buildings Act provisions are working to the District’s benefit and that the study produced no new opportunities to improve the Act.
icon C100 Testimony Before House Subcommittee on the Height Act
July 19, 2012, Laura Richards
C100 Trustee Laura Richards’ testimony on behalf of the C100 before the House Committee On Oversight And Government Reform Subcomittee On Health Care, District Of Columbia, Census And The National Archives. In summary, Ms. Richards testified that, “In short, lifting the height limit will alter irretrievably the District’s historic, welcoming scale without producing upside benefits. The Committee of 100 therefore believes that the Height Act should remain undisturbed and should be enforced vigorously.”
icon HALMR2003
October 19, 2010, Laura Richards
Committee of 100 Height Act Centennial Celebration

Historical Documents

icon An Act to regulate height of buildings in the District of Columbia (P.L. 61-196)
June 1, 1910, P.L. 61-196, U.S. House of Representatives, 61st Congress
icon Height of Buildings in the District of Columbia, Conference Report
May 22, 1910, H.Rept. 1382, U.S. House of Representatives, 61st Congress
icon Height of Buildings in the District of Columbia, Report
March 10, 1910, H.Rept. 720, U.S. House of Representatives, 61st Congress
icon Regulating Heights of Buildings in the District of Columbia
Dec. 20, 1899, H.Rept. 1704, U.S. House of Representatives, 55th Congress
icon An Act to regulate height of buildings in the District of Columbia
March 1, 1899, P.L. 55-322, 55th Congress
icon Regulating Height of Buildings in the District of Columbia (S.Rept. 1532)
Jan. 26, 1899, S.Rept. 1532, U.S. House of Representatives, 55th Congress
icon A Bill to regulate height of buildings in the District of Columbia (S. 4898)
December 7, 1898, S. 4898, 55th Congress
icon A Bill to regulate height of buildings in the District of Columbia
May 23, 1898, H.R. 10430, 55th Congress

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