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Darrell Issa Considers Lessening Restrictions on D.C. Building Heights

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

“Allowing habitable space in a roof structure in addition to the normal roof top machinery, while retaining the current roof structure setback requirement, would allow a wide variety of uses, such as restaurants and lounges, health clubs, community rooms and enclosed swimming pools as well as other residential and non-residential uses,” Collins said of the economic benefits of amending the Height Act in such a way.

“Allowing their use for more active purposes will have no real impact on the overall maximum heights of buildings as permitted by the 1910 Height Act and will not impact the District’s recognizable and historic skyline,” Tregoning added.

They all agreed, however, that any changes to the Height Act would have to be made with significant sensitivity to the wishes of District residents, many of whom are very attached to the laws governing the scale of their architecture and believe any modification would open a Pandora’s box of changes.

“You may have every reason to want a few stories, but you will bring down the citizens on you like nothing you’ve ever seen,” Norton warned her colleagues.

Laura Richards, a member of the board of trustees of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, was the lone voice of opposition to changes to the Height Act.

“The Height Act of 1910 plays a positive, powerful role in shaping the cityscape and the experience of living in the District,” she said. “Changes to the Height Act, including the suggestion to allow rooftop construction alongside mechanical penthouses, are not necessary to achieve additional residential capacity or to stimulate economic development. In short, lifting the Height Act will alter irretrievably ... [and it] should remain undisturbed and should be enforced vigorously.”

D.C. Commuter Tax?

On an unrelated note and in the final minutes of the hearing, Issa floated an idea based on a comment Gandhi had made earlier in the afternoon: Could D.C.’s charter be revised to allow city government to collect a commuter tax?

“I think we should, after the election, start thinking about how we’re going to deal with the only place that doesn’t have the ability to tax people who earn their income in that place,” Issa said.

Later, in speaking with reporters, Issa said he was coming from “a standpoint of fairness but also from the standpoint of removing the incentive to commute out of the city while working in the city.”

“It costs all of us a lot of money,” he continued, “when people have a reason, an inducement, to commute out of the city for tax purposes, and that is what’s unique here that wouldn’t exist in any other state.”

The Home Rule Act of 1973 prohibits the city from imposing a commuter tax unless Congress passes legislation to change that.

Should such a prohibition be lifted, the money that the city would receive could be staggering given its status as home of the federal government, where hundreds of people come to work each day from suburban homes in Virginia and Maryland.

This is actually the second time Issa has attended a D.C. hearing and mentioned, almost as a whim, that he wanted to take up an issue close to local residents’ hearts.

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