More DC penthouses?

A key House committee on Wednesday will consider legislation that would expand the availability of penthouses in Washington, D.C.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will mark up H.R. 4192, a bill that would amend a building code law that hasn't been changed since 1910. That law restricts the height of buildings in the District, and says no one can live in structures built on D.C. rooftops.

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Committee consideration of the bill comes after a December hearing, in which witnesses agreed that allowing people to live in penthouses above the roofline would not dramatically alter the city's architectural character. Harriet Tregoning, director of the D.C. Office of Planning, said this change would allow the city to accommodate a growing population, and help keep housing costs down.

"The concern we bring before you is that the current Height Act limits constrain the city's ability to grown and accommodate future demand," she said in the Dec. 2 hearing.

Tregoning proposed higher building heights based on the width of streets, and to remove restrictions on human occupancy of penthouses. The committee also heard from Marcel Acosta, the executive director of the National Capital Planning Commission, which also supports the addition of rooftop penthouses.

The legislation from Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), H.R. 4192, does just that. It changes the 1910 law by allowing people to live in penthouses that are one story high, and no more than 20 feet above the level of the roof.

The broad idea of changing the law has been controversial within the District of Columbia. Last year, Mayor Vincent Gray indicated support for increased flexibility, while D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson argued for no changes to the 1910 law. But since then, Mendelson has indicated support for the narrow change offered by Issa.

Issa's bill is co-sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a strong supporter of giving the District more autonomy in governing its own affairs.

— This story was updated at 9:59 a.m. 

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