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Outcome of April 1 Mayoral Primary Could Shape D.C. Skyline

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Issa has said he will give full consideration to changes to the District’s Height Act, so whoever wins D.C.’s April 1 mayoral primary may have the chance to make their case to Congress for modifying or maintaining the act.

Orange, who represented Ward 5 for two terms and is currently serving as an at-large councilmember, ticked off a list of stalled affordable-housing developments. He mentioned projects targeted for neighborhoods around the city, including Deanwood, NoMa, Anacostia and Park View.

“Tonight, there are 4,200 people that are going to be in shelters, that are going to be in recreation centers because we did not build the affordable housing,” Orange said, before slamming Gray’s administration for “backing away” from commitments.

Gray casts the debate about height limits as a referendum on home rule. His stance parallels that of Issa, who has suggested he wants to empower the city. “I didn’t have a proposal to raise a specific height limit,” Gray told CQ Roll Call. “What I wanted to do is to be able to turn the decision-making over to the people of our city.”

One of Gray’s chief advocates for giving the District more of a say in structuring its skyline was recently hired by the Obama administration. D.C. Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning announced earlier this month that she would be resigning, effective Feb. 23, to join the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Gray stands behind recommendations drafted under Tregoning’s leadership that suggest the District should be empowered to modify height limits through its comprehensive plan and zoning to meet increased demand for housing and office space, as projected by the Office of Planning.

Allen agrees that population growth will soon make it necessary to investigate how to lift height restrictions.

Lewis, who has spent most of her career in federal politics, also concurs. She supports changing height restrictions outside the downtown core or “federal city,” but she said leaders must do a better job of holding developers accountable for including affordable housing in their projects.

Also in favor of easing height restrictions in some neighborhoods is Shallal. The Busboys and Poets owner understands that District residents don’t want their town to feel or look like New York City.

“D.C. has a very unique character and part of it is you can actually see the sky when you are walking around,” Shallal said. If we want to have real walkable, livable city — a place able to sustain businesses built on the ground floor of residential building — “we need to have more density,” he argued.

Whoever wins the April 1 primary may have the chance to make their case to Congress for modifying or maintaining the Height Act. Issa has said he will not close the books on the issue without full consideration.

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