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Height Act Meetings Expose Growth Concern | District Notebook

One month before they draft their report for a House panel, federal and District officials are showing D.C. residents how skylines could change if Congress lifts its cap on the scale of the city’s buildings.

At an Aug. 7 public meeting in the Mount Pleasant Public Library, presentations from the D.C. Office of Public Planning and the National Capital Planning Commission provoked raised eyebrows, scowls and critical comments from residents.

Harriet Tregoning, director of the District’s Office of Planning and Development, reminded the group that changes to the Height Act of 1910 “won’t automatically result in taller buildings” but would give the city more autonomy to explore increasing scales and changing zoning codes.

In October 2012, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., requested a study about possible changes to the Height Act. Officials promised to report back to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he chairs, in September.

“People have very passionate view about the heights of the city,” said Marcel Acosta, executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission. “We’re doing our best to sort through it.”

The latest phase of the Height Master Plan involves laying out the economic effects of possible changes,and clicking through PowerPoint presentations to visualize future cityscapes.

Residents see views of the Washington Monument and the Capitol transformed by vertical growth. One slide shows the monuments from the Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Va., another the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, across the Anacostia River. On the current map, general building heights are limited to 130 feet and extended to 160 feet along parts of Pennsylvania Avenue. Building heights in business areas are mostly limited to the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet.

With each click, pale blond boxes of projected growth piled on top of existing buildings in high-density commercial areas of the city and medium-density residential areas — climbing to the 130-foot existing height limit, then to 160, 180 and finally 200 feet — and in some cases obstructing views of the monuments.

Public meeting attendees worried about straining the capacity of the city with taller buildings. They also wondered about the aesthetics — how would new shadows fall across their favorite streets, and what might happen to the city’s green spaces?

The final presentation takes place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the D.C. Office of Planning, 1100 Fourth St. SW.

This article has been updated with the correct library name and address for the D.C. Office of Planning. It has also been corrected to state the report will be drafted in one month, not presented.