D.C. Central Planners Considering Plan To Relax Building Height Limits

April 16th, 2012

Very good news:

But as the District’s healthy real estate market continues to heat up, land is becoming scare, pushing development farther east along New York Avenue and into once-residential neighborhoods.

After the CityCenterDC mixed-use project near Chinatown and the new convention center hotel are completed over the next two years, there will be no additional buildable land in the core of downtown, according to the Downtown Business Improvement District.

With some federal restrictions likely to remain in place and city planners adamant they, too, care about preserving the sight-lines to the monuments, few expect that congressional action to loosen the rules would lead to the District turning into Manhattan.

The Washington Monument is 550 feet high; whether a building is 130 feet or 140 feet probably is not going to make much of a difference,” said Eric Colbert, an architect with six projects on 14th Street NW, an area he predicts will be built out in two to three years.

Instead of vast changes to building heights, architects and builders said, tweaking the restrictions would free up a bit more space to allow them to experiment with design. In the suburbs, for example, most buildings are constructed with at least 9-foot ceilings but they are kept to about 8.5 feet in the District, said Shalom Baranes, an architect whose firm is working on the CityCenter DC project.

“If you raise the limits . . . what you would see is buildings getting just a little thinner as they go up,” Baranes said. “You would get a little bit more light and a little bit more space between them.”

If the city would also boost density rules, Baranes said about 100 office workers could be added to each additional floor. Residential buildings could house up to 40 additional residents per floor, he said.

The added population combined with higher ceilings could be a boon for city efforts to entice more retail stores to downtown, said Tom Wilbur, a vice president at Akridge development company.