District of Columbia Building Height Timeline

District of Columbia Building Height Timeline
Regulation of building heights in Washington dates back to the earliest days of the city—George Washington issued the first regulations in 1791, on Thomas Jefferson’s advice. Washington and Jefferson each temporarily suspended the regulations. The next landmark came in July 1894 when the Commissioners of the District of Columbia issued new height regulations. T.F. Schneider had begun construction of the Cairo Apartment building in Spring 1894, starting in February—a building originally reported to be 120 feet but actually built to 160 feet. In 1897 (reported on April 11) C.B Hunt and Snowden Ashford were appointed as a committee to investigate “… maximum height of buildings consistent with health, safety and comfort that should be permitted.” In 1899 Congress enacted them into statute. In 1910 this law was revised, providing the basis of current laws. In 1920 the Zoning Commission was created, which enacted height and bulk limits. In 1930 Congress enacted the Shipstead-Luce Act giving the Commission of Fine Arts jurisdiction over buildings adjacent to public buildings and land. Zoning regulations were revised in 1956.
Note that the height of the Capitol and Washington Monument are not cited in any legislation or hearings.
Building Height Timeline

1791 March 11

from: Thomas Jefferson and the National Capital. Edited by Saul K. Padover.

Objects which may merit the attention of the President, at Georgetown.
… I cannot help again suggesting here one regulation formerly suggested, to wit: To provide for the extinguishment of fires, and the openness and convenience of the town, by prohibiting houses of excessive height. And making it unlawful to build on any one’s purchase any house with more than two floors between the common level of the earth and the eaves, nor with any other floor in the roof than one at the eaves. …

1791 October 17
President Washington issues regulations:
“…wall of no house shall be higher than 40 feet…nor shall any below than 35 in any of the avenues…”

1796 June 25
those provisions suspended by President Washington until 1st Monday of December 1800

1801 March 11
President Jefferson extends the suspension until January 1, 1802

1803 January 15 President Jefferson extends the suspension until January 1, 1804

1894 July 27
Commissioners issue height regulations:
No building will be erected in the District of Columbia whose height exceeds the width of the street in its front
No building will be erected on a residential street in the District of Columbia whose height exceeds 90 feet.
No building will be erected on a commercial street in the District of Columbia whose height exceeds 110 feet.

Evening Star editorial in favor July 28, 1894

1899 March 1
Act to regulate the height of buildings in the District of Columbia

submitted by the Commissioners of the District, making 1894 regulations statutory

House report
Conference report
Act – P.L. 55-3221899

1910 March 10 and April 22, 1910 Height of Buildings in the District of Columbia Report to Accompany HR 19070

1910 June 1 An Act to Regulate the Height of Buildings in the District of Columbia.

House report
Conference report
Act – P.L. 61-196

Amended 1910 December 30(PL329– allowing St. Matthew’s to be completed) May 20, 1912 February 21, 1925

November 1, 1919 Regulating the height of buildings on certain streets in the District of Columbia [V, W, between 14th and 16th--75 foot limit; protecting views at Meridian Hill Park] proposed

1920 March 21 Zoning Commission created

1926 March 18 Amending an act Regulating the height of Buildings in the District of Columbia [permitted erection of National Press Club building]

1929 February 25 Bill S 5870 [to allow 180 foot building on Dean tract/Temple Heights]

1930 May 16 Shipstead-Luce Act [Regulating the height, design, and construction of private and semipublic buildings in the National Capital] [control given to CFA over private buildings facing public buildings and parks]

1940 NCPC chair Frederic Delano suggests lowering height limit (Washington Star December 5, 1940)

1943 May 22–joint meeting of NCPPC and CFA call for tighter regulation of building heights

1955 Zoning Advisory Committee Executive Committee urges 40 and 150 foot height limits Evening StarApril 26, 1955

1961 PL 281 strikes 8 story limit but not height limit

1964 January 25 Kyl resolution to repeal the height act

1967 November 29
11th & L Streets NW controversy (Washington Post) architect–Morris Lapidus partners–Bender Brothers, Lee Rubinstein, James Bierbower, D. Jay Hyman

1968 Feb 6 McMillan bill — raise limit to 230 feet for some uses

1968 Feb 25 Wolf von Eckhardt scathing criticism of McMillan/Tydings bill crafted by George Frain

1968 Mar 18 Carl Feiss letter in opposition WP

1969 January 28 McMillan bill reintroduced

1969 January 30
H.R. 5528
To authorize realistic, economic, and modern building heights and bulk in the District of Columbia…. (Hawkins)
proposes 630 foot limit

1971 Washington Building Height and Skyline Study

1971 January 29 McMillan bill again reintroduced

2012-2013 Height Study NCPC and DC office of Planning

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United States. Congress. House. Committee on the District of Columbia.
Regulating height of buildings on certain streets in the District of Columbia …
[Washington, Govt. print. off., 1919]
Focht, Benjamin Kurtz, 1863-1937.
6 p. 23 cm.
Subjects: Building laws–Washington (D.C.)
LC Classification: TH224 .D62 1919c

United States. Congress. Conference committees, 1919-1920.
Height of buildings in the District of Columbia …
[Washington, Govt. print. off., 1920]
Mapes, Carl Edgar, 1874-1939. [from old catalog]
Sherman, Lawrence Yates, 1858-1939.
2 p. 24 cm.
Subjects: Building laws–Washington (D.C.)
LC Classification: TH224 .D62 1920c

Building height limitations : staff report for the Committee on the District of Columbia, House of Representatives, Ninety-fourth Congress, second session, April 1, 1976.
Washington : U.S. G.P.O., 1976.
United States. Congress. House. Committee on the District of Columbia.
v, 272 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
Notes: At head of title: Committee print.
“April 1, 1976.”
“Serial no. S-5.”
Subjects: Buildings–Height restrictions–Washington (D.C.)
LC Classification: KFD1659.A1 A25 1976

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Reports
United States. Congress. House. Committee on the District of Columbia.
Building height limits in the District of Columbia : hearing before the Committee on the District of Columbia, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, second session, on H.R. 4242, to enforce the law regulating the height of buildings in the District of Columbia, April 26, 1994.
Washington : U.S. G.P.O. : For sale by the U.S. G.P.O., Supt. of Docs., Congressional Sales Office, 1994.
xiii, 610 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.

Zoning Maps

District of Columbia. Zoning Commission.
District of Columbia / Zoning Commission.
[Washington] : The Commission, 1920.
Related Titles: Tentative use map, District of Columbia.
Tentative height map, District of Columbia.
4 maps ; 53 x 64 cm. and 53 x 65 cm.
Scale Information: Scale [ca. 1:24,000].
Contents: Tentative use map — 2nd tentative use map : approved July 30, 1920 — Tentative area map : adopted July 11, 1920 — Tentative height map : adopted July 4, 1920.
Notes: Also shows block numbers.
On some maps: Columbia Planograph Co., Washington, D.C.
Oriented with north toward the upper left.
Accompanied by text: Zoning Commission of the District of Columbia. [19] leaves ; 27 cm.
Some maps include legend and notes.
LC copy of Tentative use map mounted on cloth backing.
Subjects: Zoning–Washington (D.C.)–Maps.
Buildings–Height restrictions–Washington (D.C.)–Maps.
LC Classification: G3851.G44 s24 .D5

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District of Columbia. Zoning Commission.
District of Columbia / Zoning Commission.
[Washington] : The Commission, [1920] (Washington : Columbia Planograph Co.)
Related Titles: Use map, District of Columbia.
Height map, District of Columbia.
2 maps ; 53 x 64 cm.
Scale Information: Scale [ca. 1:25,000].
Contents: Use map —Height map.
Notes: Also shows block numbers.
“Adopted August 30, 1920.”
Oriented with north toward the upper left.
Accompanied by text: Zoning Commission of the District of Columbia, Washington, August 30, 1920, zoning regulations. 18 p. ; 23 cm.
Includes statement of adoption with zoning commissioners’ signatures.
Zoning–Washington (D.C.)–Maps.
Buildings–Height restrictions–Washington (D.C.)–Maps.
LC Classification: G3851.G44 s25 .D5

United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the District of Columbia.
Zoning of the District of Columbia. Hearings before a subcommittee of the Committee on the District of Columbia, United States Senate, Seventy-fifth Congress, third session, on S. 3361, a bill providing for the zoning of the District of Columbia and the regulation of the location, height, bulk, and uses of buildings and other structures and of the uses of land in the District of Columbia, and for other purposes. March 14, 15, May 31, and June 1, 1938.
Washington, U.S. Govt. print. off., 1938.
iii, 89 p. 23 cm.
Notes: Printed for use of the Committee on the District of Columbia.
John H. Overton, Chairman of the subcommittee.
Zoning–Washington (D.C.)
Building laws–Washington (D.C.)
LC Classification: NA9127.W2 A5 1938b

Lewis, Harold Mac Lean.
Height and bulk of commercial buildings in the District of Columbia / prepared by Harold M. Lewis.
[Washington] : Washington Zoning Revision Office, 1955.
ix, 97 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
Series: Preliminary report ; no. 3

Lewis, Harold MacLean.
A new zoning plan for the District of Columbia; final report of the rezoning study.
New York, 1956.
xvi, 207 p. illus., maps (part fold., part col.) plans. 28 cm.
Zoning–Washington (D.C.)
LC Classification: NA9127.W2 L4

Washington Building Height and Skyline Study / Zoning Commission
May 1971
720.9753 D614 Washingtoniana Division
[No other locations found]

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Shipstead-Luce Act

To regulate construction of buildings near public building or public park. Hearings before the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, United States Senate, Seventieth Congress, first session, on S. 1681, a bill to regulate the height and exterior design and construction of public and private buildings in the national capital fronting on or located within two hundred feet of a public building or public park. February 3, 1928. Part 1 …
by United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds.
Type: Book
Language: English
Publisher: Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1928.

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Thesis

Conflict, compromise, and building height limitations : change in building height controls in Chicago, New York and Washington, DC
by Kiyoshi Sakamoto
Type: Book
Language: English
Publisher: 1999.
Dissertation: Thesis (M.S.)–University of Cincinnati, 1999.

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Government bodies involved include:

  •  DC Zoning Commission Zoning Commission
  • DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Office of Zoning Administrator DCRA ZA
  • Board of Zoning Adjustment BZA
  • Commission of Fine Arts CFA

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