Tuesday, February 6, 2007

CW watch - dc real estate edition

since i've moved to dc, i've been talking about changing the height restriction. now it looks like some scholars from the brookings institution are saying the same thing.

for those who don't know, buildings in dc can't be higher than 130 feet (which i believe is the height of the capitol building). now, some people have told me that this makes dc more aesthetically pleasing. while i do like the row houses, i'm not sure if i totally agree with that sentiment. i certainly don't agree with that sentiment in the face of skyrocketing rents and home prices.

i usually think of this issue in terms of the effect of the policy on home prices and apartment rental rates, but the brookings scholar Christopher B. Leinberger was talking also in regards to the price and supply of office space, which seems also to be an issue. all the more reason.

dc is such a low density city, and the height restriction is one of the problems. if you've ever travelled out to NOVA or seen the MD suburbs, you've seen some of the consequences. concentrating the region's growth within the district has any number of advantages, including reducing driving (with the reduction in road construction outlays, pollution, gas consumption), reducing sprawl, and making the city more affordable, among other things.

unfortunately, for the expansion in housing supply to have the full impact and to attract families with kids, the dc public schools need to improve considerably. the leadership of the city, however, is well aware of this and how it factors in to the city's ability to retain the high tax base young couples (read: yuppies) who have moved to the city in recent years. whether or not they can actually achieve anything in the schools remains to be seen.

some sort of sensible policy that keeps the restriction in place for the areas around the mall and the capitol seems like an appropriate solution. this would allow the historic areas to retain the gravity they have now, while allowing larger development in other areas of the city. with so much of the city's row houses designated as historic, you'd save large portions of these homes while still allowing for larger development on fallow or underutilized land. the key here is sensible, which sometimes is a foreign term for the dc bureaucracy. and some upgrade in the architectural designs of the new developments (compared to what we're getting now...yeesh) would be nice, and might help dispel dc's image as an unimaginative cultural wasteland (which isn't entirely untrue).

i couldn't finish this without commenting on the quote at the end of the wapo piece.

"Rosslyn has tall buildings and views of the city, but if you change the height limit and someone builds in the air rights above the Watergate then you've blocked that view," said Don Kreuzer, a dentist who has lived in Foggy Bottom for 35 years. "D.C. is beautiful because of the height limits. If you change that you're going to ruin the view."
who cares what the view from rosslyn (i.e. virginia) looks like? i'll agree that the height limit does make dc somewhat more pleasing and manageable, but a maximum 12 stories for buildings is just ridiculous (in our nations capital no less!). for the most part, people who live in dc don't have a view of dc, it's only there for the people in the suburbs. i suspect that this guy lives in one of the few high rises in foggy bottom that actually have a view of the lincoln memorial, and he's just phrasing it in a manner that seems less self-interested. furthermore, if you keep the restrictions in place around the mall, the capitol, and the monuments, then this wouldn't even apply.

hopefully this idea reaches the point where it becomes more than just something academics mention occasionally at panel discussions and gets some serious debate.

Update: DCist harks on this as well, and raises a lot of good additional points. they come out on the same side of this as i do. they also pointed out the faulty assertion about the relationship between the capitol building and the height restriction. mythbusters!

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