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September 11, 2013

The Purpose Built Capital City

Dear Washingtonians:

The National Capital Planning Commission has released for public comments the recommendation of Marcel Acosta, its executive director, on the Height Act, Contrary to the fears of most residents and the hopes of Greater Greater Washington and the developers they represent, these recommendations do not scrap the Height Act restrictions on downtown buildings and lead to building DC into a city of skyscrapers. Instead they open with a recognition of the value that the Height Act has contributed to planning of the city of Washington: "For more than a century, the federal Height of Buildings Act of 1910 (‘Height Act’) has shaped Washington’s unmistakable skyline. It is a skyline not dominated by corporate towers, but a cityscape that reinforces symbolic civic spaces and structures. The physical urban form of this purpose-built capital city reflects many democratic ideals. The Height Act has protected the setting and views to and from the National Mall, the institutions of our democracy, and our national memorials and parks. It also contributes to a street-level urban design character that includes broad sunlit streets, well-defined, consistent street walls, and carefully framed parks and memorials.

"The law is simple, equitable, and has distributed development to all parts of the city rather than concentrating growth to a single high-rise cluster. It contributes to a stable and predictable real estate development climate. While the Height Act provides a maximum cap on building height in Washington, the District of Columbia establishes local requirements that further control height and design. Local zoning is often more restrictive than the Height Act."

The recommendation does leave room for some tweaking, or twerking, of height restrictions, particularly with regard to the definition and uses of penthouses. You can comment on the recommendation at


The National Review has published an article by Jonah Goldberg,, that takes off on the DC Department of Health’s 66-page proposal of new rules for tattooing and body piercing. Goldberg thinks the rules’ restrictions, including a twenty-four-hour waiting period before having a tattoo, don’t conflict with modern liberalism, but grow directly out of liberalism: "Social liberalism is the foremost, predominant, and in many instances sole impulse for zealous regulation in this country, particularly in big cities. . . . Seriously, who else do people think are behind efforts to ban big sodas or sue hairdressers for charging women more than men? Who harasses little kids for making toy guns out of sticks, Pop Tarts, or their own fingers? Who wants to regulate the air you breathe, the food you eat, and the beverages you drink? Who wants to control your thermostat? Take your guns? Your cigarettes? Heck, your candy cigarettes? Who’s in favor of speech codes on campuses and ‘hate crime’ laws everywhere? Who’s in favor of free speech when it comes to taxpayer-subsidized ‘art’ and pornography (so long as you use a condom, if liberals get their way) but then bang their spoons on their high chairs for strict regulations when it comes to political speech? Who loves meddling, finger-wagging billionaires like Michael Bloomberg when they use state power and taxpayer money to herd, bully, and nudge people but thinks billionaires like the Koch brothers who want to shrink government are the root of all tyranny?" Is he right? In DC, is it the liberal politicians or conservatives who want more bans and regulations?

Gary Imhoff


Cha Cha Residents Appeal Cafritz Plan
Peter Gosselin,

I know I must sound like a broken record by now, but there's a really great story in this project, and one that has citywide implications. With the Gray administration seeking to weaken the Height of Buildings Act (against the wishes, as it seems, of the National Capital Planning Commission) and to rewrite the city zoning code in order to boost development and pursue a smart-growth agenda, here we have one of Washington's oldest development families cutting corners in advance of any law changes. And this, just at the time the administration is trying to run over Ivy City. Shows it can happen anywhere Makes you wonder whether the developers need the changes after all, and what will be left to protect the neighborhoods.


Drafting Cures for Legislative Dysfunction
Len Sullivan,

NARPAC, Inc. has completed its buildup of a "Voters’ Bill of Rights" (#VBoR), and posted a "strawman" version of sixteen potentially useful amendments to improve our degenerating political process at, and

The intent is not to prove the limits of our legal prowess but to encourage recognition that our Constitution should be malleable, not frozen in a much earlier, more naïve time. We would welcome suggestions for improving our drafts. Meanwhile we will move on to other areas where our (barely) Living Document needs additional upgrading to cure our dangerous legislative dysfunction.


Undergrounding Pepco Lines
Duery Felton, Jr.,

If I remember correctly, PEPCO was approached by Verizon regarding sharing the cost of running underground lines. Verizon reasoned that since it was planning to run underground fiber lines, PEPCO could share the cost, and install their (PEPCO) lines. Nothing came of the offer.


Pro-Car Screed
Jack McKay,

Gary, I'm afraid your reader is correct [themail, September 8]. I'm one who used to contribute fairly frequently, but no longer. The pro-car tone of themail has become so strident that I'm reluctant to contribute my analyses — see my September 2013 ANC 1D03 newsletter, where I refute the MPD claims that speed cameras "save lives" — because, printed here, anything I wrote would likely be dismissed as just another pro-automobile screed.


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