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Posted at 01:47 PM ET, 04/20/2012

Norton isn’t gung ho on Height Act changes


Norton shares only cautious words on building height changes. (Sarah L. Voisin - The Washington Post)
The Post’s Monday report on new Capitol Hill discussions of loosening the District’s longstanding building height limits has prompted a whole lot of reaction on both sides of the question.

Tim Craig reported that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has been in talks with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and the District’s delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), about the proposal. Issa was quoted at length expressing measured support for the idea; Norton wasn’t quoted saying anything at all.

Today, Norton’s office issued a statement on her behalf responding to a “number of inquiries concerning my views.” Her views, it turns out, are even more measured than Issa’s: “My support for the Height Act remains as strong as ever,” she says, adding that the law “accounts for the distinctive look that sets the District of Columbia apart from any other city in the world.”

“The common understanding that our identity as a city depends on the Height Act is so strong that no one has approached my office about changes in the heights of buildings permitted here,” Norton says.

Well, except for Gray. And Norton isn’t ruling out changes entirely. The closest thing to a definite statement in her missive are these: “No idea is beyond examination but the implications range from technical to profound.”

What does that mean? A savvy observer might read a few things into the statement: First, Norton has heard mainly from folks who oppose changes to the current height regime. Second, she’s making it clear that she’s not driving this train. And third, unless the political outlook shifts, she’s not particularly inclined to support anything but the most modest changes.

Read the full statement and interpret for yourself:

Since this week’s reports quoting Oversight and Government Reform chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) on the Height Act, I have received a number of inquiries concerning my views. My support for the Height Act remains as strong as ever. The discipline embedded in the Height Act accounts for the distinctive look that sets the District of Columbia apart from any other city in the world. Both the livable scale of our city and the vistas that feature its unique historic monuments and sites depend upon maintaining the Height Act discipline that flows naturally from L’Enfant’s original vision and the McMillan Plan. The common understanding that our identity as a city depends on the Height Act is so strong that no one has approached my office about changes in the heights of buildings permitted here.
However, Chairman Issa has raised with Mayor Gray and me the question of adjustments outside of the monumental core of the city. To his credit, Rep. Issa has not proposed that his committee proceed but has recognized the profound home rule implications of such a change. No idea is beyond examination but the implications range from technical to profound. As the Mayor, City Council, city planners, economic and other experts, and particularly residents consider this issue, I have confidence that they will understand best the delicacy of this matter of historic importance.

By  |  01:47 PM ET, 04/20/2012

 
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