For more than a century, the height of buildings in Washington D.C. has been capped by federal law. The original rationale was fire safety — ladders back in 1900 only reached so high — but the height limit has since made its way into the city’s aesthetic mythology. It preserves “light and air” on the streets, defenders say, and symbolizes the subordination of commerce to the rule of law.
But it also helps make housing and office space really expensive in a city that’s already difficult to live and do business in, and forces a monotonous, ice-cube tray quality on the skyline. For those reasons, over the decades, the city’s leaders have asked Congress to lift the restriction. Their cries have always gone unheeded — until last year, when Republican Rep. Darrell Issa struck up an improbable friendship with D.C. Mayor Vince Gray (D).
So Issa asked for a study on what it would mean to raise the height limit. Today, a preliminary economic feasibility analysis was released, and it confirms what you would expect: Boosting the height limit, even to between 130 and 160 feet total, would incentivize developers to add on to existing buildings and construct taller new ones.
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