Overview

In November 2012, the National Capital Planning Commission and the District of Columbia Office of Planning announced a joint Height Master Plan to explore the impact of strategic changes to the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910.

Congressman Darrell Issa, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested the study following the committee’s July 19, 2012 hearing on “Changes to the Height Act: Shaping Washington, D.C., For the Future.” As stated in Representative Issa’s October 3, 2012 request letter, the study explored potential strategic changes to the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910 (The Height Act1) in those areas outside the L’Enfant City2 that support local economic development goals, while taking into account the impact on federal interests, national security concerns, compatibility to surrounding neighborhoods, local residents input and other related factors. NCPC and the District of Columbia were asked to determine the extent to which the Height Act continues to serve the interests of both federal and District governments.

The Study is Guided by Three Core Principles

The Study is Organized into Three Phases

Phase 1: Overview, discussion of study principles and issues shaping federal and local interests, case studies.
Public meetings in May and June 2013.

Phase 2: Planning analysis results and identification of opportunity areas for strategic changes to the Height Act.
Public meetings in late July 2013.

Phase 3: Draft recommendations. Public hearings in October - November 2013.

The National Capital Planning Commission and the District of Columbia transmitted final reports and recommendations to Congress.

On December 2, 2013 the U.S. House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform held a congrssional hearing to consider the final recommendations.

The Approach

The following outline summarizes the overall approach for the joint National Capital Planning Commission and District of Columbia Office of Planning (DCOP) Height Master Plan for the District of Columbia. This effort includes opportunities for public participation and coordination with federal and local stakeholder organizations.  Work products were publicly released at various stages to help frame public discussion and encourage review and comment. These work products, public comments, and other background materials became the basis for the recommendations from the National Capital Planning Commission and the District of Columbia to the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform in fall 2013.

Why are we conducting the Height Master Plan? Who is conducting the work?
What will the study address?
How will the public have an opportunity to review and comment on the work products and recommendations?

Why are we conducting the Height Master Plan? Who is conducting the work?

The National Capital Planning Commission and the District of Columbia jointly conducted this study at the request of Representative Darrell Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. Additional study-related services were provided by the following consultant teams:

Best Practices and Case Studies
AECOM

Economic Feasibility Analysis
Partners for Economic Solutions—prime consultant
Structura, Inc.
James G. Davis Construction Corporation

Modeling Analysis
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLC—prime consultant
CyberCity 3D, Inc.
AMT, LLC Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors
Digital Design & Imaging Service Inc.
Capital Pixel

What will the study address?

As stated in Representative Issa’s request letter dated October 3, 2012, the study explored strategic changes to the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910 (The Height Act1) in those areas outside the L’Enfant City2 that support local economic development goals, while taking into account the impact on federal interests, compatibility to the surrounding neighborhoods, national security concerns, input from local residents and other related factors. The NCPC and the District of Columbia were asked to determine the extent to which the Height Act continues to serve both the federal and District government interests.  The study was guided by these core principles:

How will the public have the opportunity to review and comment on work products and recommendations?

NCPC and DCOP held public events at three stages in the study, where the draft work products for each phase (described below) were presented. 

In addition, NCPC and DCOP provided the public with information through speaker forums, a website devoted to the study with public comment opportunities, and facilitated discussions with stakeholder groups. 

The following is an overview of the three phases of the study. The goal of Phase I and Phase II was to answer a set of questions that form the basis of the draft plan. Phase III consisted of formal public review and comment on the draft Master Plan and recommendations.  The National Capital Planning Commission then deliberated and acted on the recommendations and transmitted final recommendations to Congress.

Phase 1: Background Research and Definition of Federal and Local Interests
The first phase developed background information and case studies to help shape the discussion of core principles of the study.

Phase 2:  Identify Geographic and Technical Areas for Strategic Changes to the Height Act
Using information from Phase I, Phase II identified and analyzed geographic areas for opportunities to strategically change the Height Act.  This phase also reviewed potential modifications to the Height Act language. These initial recommendations were presented to the public for discussion.

Phase 3: Submission of Recommendations to Congress and Conclusion of Plan
The work products were summarized into a draft Height Master Plan and recommendations. The Commission conducted formal public hearings to accept comments.  NCPC reviewed the plan’s draft plan recommendations and made its final plan and recommendations to Congress.

What happens after any Congressional action?

The Height Act is a federal law that can be modified only through congressional action. Any changes to the law proposed by Congress will not pre-empt local decisions by the District government about whether and when any changes to building heights would occur. The District would undertake amendments to its Comprehensive Plan and then initiate any zoning changes deemed appropriate through its normal processes, including substantial public input for both processes, to respond to any congressional modifications to the Height Act.

 

1The Height Act is a federal law which provides uniform restrictions on the height of all buildings within the District of Columbia boundaries.

2The original L’Enfant City (also known as Washington City) generally includes all areas bounded by Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, Florida Avenue and the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.