Photo by jerdlngr on Flickr.

Should DC raise its height limit? A study aims to answer this question, but we can’t consider this issue entirely in a vacuum. The real question is, where should DC grow?

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) and DC Office of Planning (OP) are running the study, which includes 5 public meetings over the next 2 weeks, starting this Saturday in Tenleytown.

Rapidly-rising housing prices in the District show that many more people want to live in DC than do today. Without extra supply, that means more gentrification, and greater numbers of less wealthy renters getting pushed out of their longtime neighborhoods.

More supply isn’t the only solution, but it’s an important piece. In short, DC is building housing fast, but not fast enough.

So where should this housing go? There are obstacles to new housing just about everywhere.

  • In wealthy neighborhoods, residents file lawsuits against new developments, and the historic preservation process often lops off an extra floor or two for project after project.
  • In poorer neighborhoods, many residents also worry about larger buildings, and fear that change will bring gentrification that displaces longtime residents.
  • Downtown, the height limit restricts buildings so that there is very little more that can be built.


DC hasn’t maxed out on available development sites yet — there are more buildings yet to go up in NoMA, around the ballpark, in Hill East, at McMillan (whatever survives strong neighborhood opposition and historic review), and elsewhere. But as Payton Chung pointed out, the Office of Planning’s estimates leave only about 60,000 more housing units of space in vacant lots and major redevelopment opportunities.

Beyond that, and even before, the growth has to go to wealthy neighborhoods, poorer neighborhoods, and/or downtown. We haven’t had a citywide discussion about what mix of these is the right one. Instead, individual neighborhoods and developers fight the same battle on site after site. Each neighborhood tries to be the best at pushing development to someone else’s neighborhood. Some “succeed” more than others.

The same happens for transportation. The MoveDC study is looking at how much to focus transportation investment on the downtown or on neighborhoods. This question goes hand in hand with the question of where to grow. Neighborhoods and BIDs all want transportation investments. The right answer is to locate the transportation investments in and around the places where we want the growth to be.

Not growing is a bad solution for many reasons, and isn’t even realistic. The height limit may be one part of an answer. If it’s not, then residents need to find answers elsewhere, not stick their heads in the sand.

The 5 meetings are:

  • Saturday, August 3, 10:30-12:30 at the Tenley-Friendship Library
  • Tuesday, August 6, 6:38-8:30 pm at Dorothy Height/Benning Library
  • Wednesday, August 7, 6:38-8:30 pm at the Mt. Pleasant Library
  • Saturday, August 10, 10:30-12:30 at Catholic University’s Crough Center
  • Tuesday, August 13, 6:38-8:30 pm at the Office of Planning in Southwest


Please try to attend one (or all!) of the meetings and voice your opinions on the height limit and DC’s growth.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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.