I’m really glad that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is ready to hold hearings on amending the Height of Buildings Act that limits must structures in Washington, DC to 130 feet. Long-time readers will know that I’m a long time proponent of this, but since it requires congressional action it’s worth noting that there are sound reasons of federal policy interest to do this.
The main issue is that DC area real estate is one of the primary “inputs” to the federal government. If housing in the DC area became cheaper, then in effect real compensation of DC-area federal employees would rise (allowing the government to attract better workers) at no cost to the taxpayer. Similarly, the federal government would just straightforwardly save money if it didn’t need to pay such high rents for office space. And as well as being the most expensive office market in America, DC also has one of the most expensive hotel markets in the country which raises the cost of doing routine federal business which often requires federal workers based elsewhere to travel to agency headquarters’ in the DC region.
Last but not least, as a political matter I urge Issa to go big on this. Just doing a small increase in permitted heights downtown or designating some peripheral would be nice but allowing true big skyscrapers in the real downtown is the game-changer. The primary reason for this is that he existing regional transportation infrastructure already goes downtown and we should be maximizing the value of that infrastructure. But a second important reason is that there are no NIMBYs downtown because it’s not in anyone’s backyard. Upzoning downtown requires the political lift of amending the Height Act, but once that’s done you’re done. Anywhere else you look, that’d just be the first step in an endless series of battles.