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From the Publisher's Desk...

OUR CITY’S HISTORIC VIEWS MAY BE UNDER ATTACK: NIP IT IN THE BUD BEFORE WE CREATE A WEED PATCH

Well, here we go again, Mayor Gray and our Congressional Delegate Norton (she’s in on it because Congress controls most everything for the city) are questioning the continued relevance of the District’s building height limitations. Naturally, the commercial real estate developers are jumping on the bandwagon.

Here, for example, is what the April 12th on-line daily update from the Washington Business Journal had to say:

“Like a phoenix, the discussion of raising building heights in D.C. has resurfaced again. . . .

“After all, that’s how it’s been since 1910, when the congressional Height Act stunted [italics ours] most of the District’s building stock at 130 feet.

“The result, many developers and architects say, is a downtown devoid of outstanding buildings. Instead, developers have been forced to condense their offices, residences and shops into squat, undistinguished structures that developer Jim Abdo likens to ‘the refrigerator aisle at Lowe’s home store.’”

Abdo’s comment is peculiar given that he is one of the city’s most creative developers and has been able to engage architects who have designed buildings of distinction, notwithstanding the current height limits.

We wonder if refrigerators were available and Lowe’s had a store in Paris –- and Abdo was there — between 1853 and 1870 would he have said the same thing about the remaking of central Paris by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann who Napoléon III commissioned to tear everything down and start all over? After all, what Haussmann gave Napoléon were boulevards upon boulevards of rows upon rows of 80 or 90 foot buildings –- just take a look at Boulevard Haussmann, for example.

If developers and architects of the mid-to-late 19th century and early 20th century in Paris and other European cities could line their streets with well-designed buildings despite the height limits (admittedly probably to a large extent a consequence of building technology of the time, especially prior to the final decades of the 19th century), then why do our city’s developers complain that our height limits make distinguished architectural design impossible?

Frankly, they are just making excuses for their unwillingness to pay for good design; K Street could have been an architecturally pleasing, if not distinguished, boulevard. To blame its banality on the height limitation law is bogus.

While we understand from what we have seen reported in the Washington Post of April 11th, neither the mayor nor the developers are at the moment suggesting that tall buildings be introduced downtown in the same way they sprung up in central London during the latter part of the 20th century –- to its detriment in our view. But even if the notion that it would be acceptable to develop areas away from downtown, such as out near the St. Elizabeth’s site in Anacostia, we would be opposed.

All one has to do is look across Paris toward its westernmost district and see the jarring sight of the massive skyscrapers rising from the area known as La Défense; imagine that looming up over the Anacostia ridge near the old St. Elizabeth’s site.

Just take a look at the following quote from that Post article of the 11th:

“Noting there are 20-story buildings in Rosslyn and Crystal City, Issa questioned why taller buildings are not allowed near New York Avenue NE or as part of the redevelopment of the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast — a change that could cause property values to skyrocket.”

Isn’t it horrible enough that the vista west from the Capitol along the Mall has been despoiled by the hideousness of Rosslyn across the river? And, by the way, can anyone claim that those building are architecturally more distinguished than what we have here in the District? We think not.

This is our nation’s capital and considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world; let’s not destroy that for the sake of the almighty dollar!