Plan of the City of Washington


Legislative Authorities

NCPC is an independent executive branch agency that operates under many laws and authorities that it also implements. These include:

National Capital Planning Act

This Act, set forth at 40 U.S.C. §§8701 et seq., establishes the National Capital Planning Commission as the central planning agency for the federal government in the National Capital Region (NCR). The Act provides for the agency's essential functions, including development of a Comprehensive Plan for the NCR; review of federal and some District of Columbia (DC) proposed developments and projects; review of DC zoning amendments; annual review of the Federal Capital Improvements Program and the DC Capital Improvements Program; and the development of special planning projects.

Height of Buildings Act of 1910

This law, enacted in 1910 as 36 Stat. 452, is key to establishing and assuring the horizontal character of the national capital by setting maximum building heights that are generally controlled by street widths. The height limit on residential streets is 90 feet. In business areas, the building height is generally limited to the width of the adjacent street plus 20 feet. In addition, there is a general height limit of 130 feet, extended to 160 feet along certain portions of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Commemorative Works Act

The Commemorative Works Act, found at 40 U.S.C. §§8901 et seq., specifies the requirements for development, approval, and location of new memorials and monuments in the District of Columbia and its environs. The Act preserves the urban design legacy of the historic L'Enfant and McMillan Plans by protecting public open space and ensuring that future memorials and monuments in areas administered by the National Park Service and the General Services Administration are appropriately located and designed. The Act provides an important role for NCPC in approving the site and design of commemorative works. When amended in 2003, the Act established a Reserve, or no-build zone on the National Mall, a proposal called for by NCPC in its 2001 Memorials and Museums Master Plan.

District of Columbia Zoning Act

Set forth at D.C. Code §§6-641.01 et seq., this law authorizes the DC Zoning Commission to regulate the location, height, bulk, number of stories, and size of buildings and other structures; lot occupancy; the sizes of open spaces; the density of population; and building and land uses. Federal buildings are exempt from zoning controls, but the Act mandates that NCPC serve on the DC Board of Zoning Adjustment, which hears many cases involving land near, or affected by, federal landholdings. The DC Zoning Commission regulations implementing this law may be found at

Foreign Missions Act

The Foreign Missions Act, 22 U.S. C. §§4301 et seq., reaffirms the federal government's jurisdiction over the operation of foreign missions and international organizations in the United States. The Act establishes the criteria and procedures by which foreign missions may locate in the District of Columbia. It provides for NCPC's executive director to serve as a member of the DC Board of Zoning Adjustment when considering applications by foreign missions.

International Center Act

This law, passed in 1968 and amended in 1982 (Section 1 of P.L. 90-553 (82 Stat. 958) and P.L. 97-186 (96 Stat. 101), authorizes the Secretary of State to sell or lease to foreign governments and international organizations federal property located within the International Center along Van Ness Street in Northwest Washington, DC. Development plans for all chanceries in the 47-acre International Center are subject to NCPC's approval.

National Historic Preservation Act

This law, at 16 U.S.C. §470, establishes a program for preserving historic properties throughout the nation. By carrying out its obligations under this law, NCPC serves as a steward of the region's historic buildings, districts, landscapes, and views. Regulations are available from the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

NCPC's Historic Preservation Policies and Procedures are found under Submission Guidelines

National Environmental Policy Act

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §4321 et seq., requires federal agencies to consider potential environmental impacts of federal actions. Under NEPA, NCPC must undertake an environmental review to inform its analysis of project proposals. Environment is broadly defined by the act to include social, economic, and historic impacts as well as effects on the natural environment. Beginning at an early point in its decision-making process, NCPC considers the environmental and historic aspects of proposed actions that it reviews. The Council on Environmental Quality has issued a helpful booklet: A Citizen's Guide to the NEPA.

NCPC's Environmental Policies and Procedures are found under Submission Guidelines

District of Columbia Home Rule Act

The District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, known as the Home Rule Act, P.L. 93-198 (87 Stat. 774), and codified at DC Code §§1-101 et seq., designated the mayor of the District of Columbia as the chief planner for the city of Washington. As a result of the Home Rule Act, the District became responsible for its own planning, including social and economic development, land use, and housing and transportation policies. NCPC approves District projects in the central area of the city, reviews and advises on other District projects and the DC elements of the Comprehensive Plan, in addition to reviewing and advising on amendments to city zoning regulations and maps.

Capper-Cramton Act

The Capper Cramton Act of May 29, 1930, 46 Stat. 482 (as amended August 8, 1946 by 60 Stat. 960), authorizes funding for the acquisition of lands in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia for the park and parkway system of the national capital. In the past, NCPC was charged with acquiring property for the George Washington Memorial Parkway; stream valley parks in Maryland and Virginia; and the park, parkway, and playground system of the District of Columbia. The Act also requires that the development of the acquired land conforms to plans approved by NCPC.

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National Capital Planning Commission, 401 9th Street, NW, Washington DC 20004
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