A proposal to raise the building height limits along part of Pennsylvania Avenue to permit 16-story buildings won near-unanimous support yesterday from witnesses at a D.C. Zoning Commission hearing.
The only opposing testimony came from a property owner who had expected to benefit from the proposed new rule, but found on close inspection that he would not.
The liberalizing of the height restrictions would apply along the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue between 10th and 15th Streets NW, bracketed on the east by the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building and on the west by the U.S. Treasury.
Present rules permit buildings to rise to 130 feet, generally 13 stories. The proposals by the government sponsored Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. and the D.C. Municipal Planning Office would permit structures up to 160 feet, or 16 stories.
Building heights in Washington are limited by a law passed by Congress in 1910, chiefly as a fire safety measure but also intended to prevent the erection of skyscrapers that would overshadow the Capitol dome.
Under the 1910 law, the maximum height through most of the city is 130 feet. A special provision in that law permits buildings up to 160 feet along Pennsylvania Avenue. The city, in adopting its zoning rules, did not take general advantage of the 160-foot provision.
However, three buildings clustered around 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue - the Munsey Building, the National Press Building and the Willard Hotel - either were built prior to 1910 or were granted special exceptions to rise to 155 or 160 feet.
If any Washingtonians harbor misgivings about other taller buildings, they did not appear at the hearing.
Eight witnesses, representing groups ranging from the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade to the preservationist organization, Don't Tear It Down, supported the greater height, although they differed on other details of the proposed changes in zoning.
Henry Keys, speaking for the National Press Building Corp., strongly urged adoption of the 160-foot rule. The corporation's principal owner, the National Press Club, has joined with Atlanta developer John Portman Jr. in proposing redevelopment of much of the block north of Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. A new hotel and office building are projected.
The three additional stories, Keyes said, "represents the difference between a profitable and a losing proposition."
The only outright opposition was voiced by E. Fulton Brylawski, a lawyer representing property owners in the block bounded by 10th, 11th and E streets and Pennsylvania Avenue, next to the FBI Building.
Brylawski said he owns the northeast corner of 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. At first, he said, he believed the 160-foot rule would benefit him. However, he said, other rules of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp. requiring a 100-foot setback from the street would erase that hope by limiting the usable space.
"In concept," Brylawski said of the 160-foot proposal, "it's a splendid idea. In the real world, it just would not work."
The Zoning Board took the case under advisement.