Should D.C. building height restrictions be lifted?

The debate about D.C.’s building height restrictions is flaring up again in some parts of the city. Proponents think it could attract more developers and businesses east of the river.


“A large amount of office space on a small amount of land -- to do that you need more than 10 stories,” said Lydia DePillis of the Washington City Paper.

Mayor Vincent Gray has mentioned a potential push to lift the restrictions in Wards 7 and 8 to boost development east of the Anacostia River. He pointed to this option at least twice in recent weeks.

“If the people in ward seven and eight are comfortable with higher buildings in their backyards, then maybe we need to make a change,” said Alex Padro, a historic preservationist.

The restriction was approved by Congress to protect the views of Washington's iconic monuments. For more than a century, they have limited how tall the skyline can grow.

Wards seven and eight are farther away from the downtown core than Rosslyn, Va., where high-rises are jostling for airspace.

Neighbors are split over the issue and the development it could bring.

“It's very attractive and I think it would bring not only more investment but make this area attractive,” one said, while another thought, “it would be a mess. We have enough congestion over here as it is.”

Critics worry too much new development could hurt a city that dodged a bullet during the recession.

“We've got one of the best performing commercial property markets in the country, so why would you mess around with something that's working,” Padro said.

Congress must approve any changes to D.C.’s building height restrictions.

Another issue is business taxes: D.C.'s are higher than those of Maryland and Virginia. Even without the height restrictions, it's unclear what tax incentives the city could offer to attract companies.