Should D.C. Be More Like New York City?

Are taller buildings the right fit for D.C.?

Is increasing the height of buildings the answer to area growth? (Photo: National Capital Planning Commission)
Is increasing the height of buildings the answer to area growth? (Photo: National Capital Planning Commission)

By Shaun Courtney

City and regional planners are taking a new, hard look at the height of buildings in Washington, D.C., which could have sweeping effects on transportation, development and growth throughout the region.

By 2040, the greater Washington area will add 1.6 million people, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Whether D.C. should look at little more like NYC is a debate for everyone to join—no matter if you live in a Georgetown townhouse, a McLean McMansion or a condo in Reston Town Center.  

The D.C. Office of Planning and the National Capital Planning Commission released a study last week about the possible impact of changing the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910. That act limits buildings to 90 feet in residential areas, 110 feet in commercial areas and 130 feet on the 160-foot-wide business streets and avenues.

Changing the height limit around current or future transit hubs could add density to developed areas and taller, denser new developments.

The study examines what would happen if your growing downtown law firm built up, adding two or three floors, rather than moving out. A more residential downtown could mean fewer cars on the 14th Street Bridge.

Of course, the District is not the only one in the area looking at height as a solution.

Look at Rosslyn, where the Potomac River is dotted with tall structures. Monday Properties is wrapping up construction of the 35-story building at 1812 N. Moore St., which, at 390 feet, is the largest building in the D.C. region.

Not everyone thinks taller is better, though. Concerned preservation groups worry that a height increase would jeopardize the prominence of the monumental core in the D.C. landscape, among other issues.

Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert encourages everyone to chime in and offer solutions to meet the growth and demand the area will experience in the coming decades:

Not growing is a bad solution for many reasons, and isn't even realistic. The height limit may be one part of an answer. If it's not, then residents need to find answers elsewhere, not stick their heads in the sand.”

What do you think? Should D.C. look a little more like New York City? Is a height increase the answer? Would you welcome a denser D.C.? Tell us in the comments below.


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