The overwhelming majority of city residents at a D.C. Council hearing Monday shot down proposed changes to the city’s century-old building height rules.
The District’s planning office has suggested allowing 200-foot-tall buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue, where structures now can only reach 160 feet, and lifting restrictions entirely in areas where the population is expected to swell outside the original city.
But 33 of the 35 people who testified at the hearing, which lasted more than six hours, opposed the possible changes.
“This is an iconic city, not a Sims video game,” local activist Chris Otten said, adding that he saw few benefits to changing the law.
The proposal comes after Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House oversight committee, called for a study of the 1910 act. The law requires buildings to be no taller than the width of the streets they front or no more than 130 feet tall, whichever is shorter, except on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The restrictions are meant to give residents and visitors an unobstructed view of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument.
“I don’t want my city looking like New York City,” local leader Donna Hays said.
Harriet Tregoning, the planning office’s director, said housing prices would continue to rise without more space for development. She said taller buildings would not appear immediately, but they should be an option for the city as it grows.
“We might not do anything for twenty years, but at least then it will be in our control,” Tregoning said.
But Chairman Phil Mendelson said the city should look for other ways to make housing more affordable.
“What the city needs is affordable housing now. Why talk about affordable housing 100 years from now?” Mendelson said.
The District could reach development capacity by 2037 under current zoning regulations, Tregoning said, while less than 5 percent of the city has the capacity to expand.
Laura Richards, a member of a local civic association, called the Height Act a “slap in the face” that would “displace the poorest residents and put pressure on owners” in the future.
The public has until Oct. 30 to comment on the planning office’s proposal.
“What we do with how we change our Height Act will affect Washingtonians for generations to come,” Council member Muriel Bowser, D-Ward 4, said. “I want our city to grow, but I don’t want to go willy-nilly and change the thing that makes us different.”