Richard Layman is concerned that NoMA is developing with too much office space and too little residential. Right now, office space is more valuable for developers to build, and with the housing market cooling, that’s not about to change. Layman and Ryan Avent suggest raising the height limit. Extra floors could make it feasible to build a mix instead of all offices. On the other hand, the shortage of office space downtown is leading to a revitalization of other neighborhoods. Avent suggests DC auction off only a couple of height exceptions per year, outside of key viewsheds. That would avoid too much sudden change, keep the upward pressure in other areas, and raise a lot of money.

I tend to agree about the height limit, but even taller buildings wouldn’t ensure mixed-use districts. Can our zoning simply require a certain mix? It wouldn’t have to be all in the same building—large projects could require a mix, and for smaller projects, developers could buy and sell “office space rights” the way they trade air rights in many cities. For example, the zoning could require at least one-third residential and one-third commercial overall. A building that has 50% residential could sell its excess 17% as a credit to another developer who wants to build less than one third residential.

Anyone know about other cities that have done anything like this (either the simple way, where each building must have some of both, or the more complex credit-trading way)?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.