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Posted at 06:01 PM ET, 07/16/2012

D.C. height debate set for Capitol Hill

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) will not be testifying at Thursday’s congressional hearing to explore modifications to the city’s building height limits, but his aides say he remains firmly committed to finding “common ground” over the issue.

In April, The Washington Post reported that Gray and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wanted to explore whether federal restrictions on building heights should be relaxed.

Though any change could take years of congressional and local debate, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the subcommittee that has oversight over the District, has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

Both Harriet Tregoning, director of the D.C. Office of Planning, and Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi plan to testify, according to a preliminary copy of the witness list.

Other witnesses include: Marcel C. Acosta, director of the National Capital Planning Commission; Robert K. Lewis, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Architecture; Christopher Collins, counsel to the District of Columbia Building Industry Association; and Laura M. Richards, a board member of the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.

Pedro Ribeiro, Gray’s communications director, said the committee decided against including a panel of elected officials.

Instead of Gray appearing, Tregoning will represent the administration’s argument that relaxing the standards could strengthen Home Rule while spurring economic development in some neighborhoods. Gandhi will probably testify on how somewhat taller buildings could boost the city’s tax base.

Richards will most likely speak about concerns that taller buildings could endanger the historical character of the city.

Last week, Richards was sworn in as a member of the city’s new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability.

Under the law that created the three-member panel, Richards said she is prohibited from lobbying except for “public testimony before the council.”

The law is silent, she said, on testimony before Congress. But Richards said she consulted with several of her colleagues and other ethics officials and concluded that there would be no conflict for her to appear.

“The idea is I can only do public testimony,” Richards said. “This is a public hearing.”

By  |  06:01 PM ET, 07/16/2012

 
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