Photo by marlambie on Flickr.

The Committee of 100, Capitol Hill Restoration Society, and other groups which habitually oppose things in DC have been fighting the project over the Union Station railyards on the grounds that you will be able to see the building over historic Union Station.

Lydia DePillis was at the recent Zoning Commission hearing. She quotes CHRS/C100 member Monte Edwards calling Union Station “the equivalent of a medieval castle.” Edwards was arguing that the developer shouldn’t be able to measure from the H Street bridge instead of the ground and thereby recapture some of the space it loses from having trains running along the ground.

I suspect when a lot of people think about the idea of seeing a building “towering over Union Station” or something similar, they’re thinking of the MetLife building behind Grand Central Terminal.

That 808-foot tower is over 6 times the height of Grand Central’s 130 feet; ironically, 130 feet is the maximum allowed in dense areas of DC for all buildings, meaning if someone proposed building Grand Central in any area outside downtown today, someone would probably say it’s too tall.

Personally, I don’t find the MetLife building to detract from Grand Central; it actually provides a great backdrop that emphasizes the historic station even more. But we’re not talking about something 6 times the height of Union Station. C100 and CHRS came up with their own renderings about how much the proposed development will “loom” over Union Station:

Potential development shown in light blue. Image from the Committee of 100.

You can barely see the building here. What’s the big deal?

On the comments on the City Paper article, Alex Block notes that the C100 renderings also take out all the trees. Standing at ground level, the trees definitely do obstruct the view of Union Station. A building would irrevocably mar the view, but a bunch of trees don’t (unless you live in the Watergate)?

Ultimately, these debates aren’t so much about individual projects as about general values: do you think the city should have more buildings, or fewer? More stores or fewer? More parking lots or fewer? Does a new building that barely peeks over an old one create “prominent vertical scars,” as the C100 press release argues, or enhance the existing fabric of the city?

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.