House votes to allow more DC penthouses

The House on Monday voted to allow construction of certain penthouses in the District of Columbia as lawmakers agreed it would not significantly change the city skyline.

Passed 367-16, the bill would amend the District of Columbia code to permit building single-story structures of up to 20 feet above the roof level. Those penthouses could include potential apartments, offices and cafeterias.

ADVERTISEMENT
Structures such as air-conditioning units currently have a height limit of 18.6 feet above the roof. But the measure would expand the D.C. code to allow building penthouses of up to 20 feet used for human occupancy.

The bill would give the District home rule authority to modify the 1910 Height of Buildings Act, which has not been changed in decades. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said it was a modest measure to allow the city to accommodate demands for housing and office space.

"This bill is not a mandate directing the city to make any changes to penthouses or to its existing comprehensive plan or local zoning laws more generally," Norton said.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose panel has jurisdiction over the District, said allowing construction of the penthouses would bring in more revenue. But he stressed that the bill would not impact the D.C. skyline.

"The District of Columbia has a unique visual requirement. We should not, cannot and will not obstruct the Mall and major parts of this historic city," Issa said.

Proposals to allow taller buildings in D.C. have long been controversial among the city's leadership. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray suggested increased flexibility for building penthouses last year, while D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson insisted that the city's height limits should not be changed. But Mendelson has since stated support for the narrow modification proposed in the bill.

The House also passed the following bills on Monday under suspension of the rules:

- H.R. 4120, by 384-0, to extend for an additional three years the construction of the building of the National Law Enforcement Officers Museum to honor federal, state and local law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

- H.R. 298, by voice vote, to direct the Interior secretary to conduct a study on the merits of including Kentucky's Mills Springs Battlefield in the National Park System.

- H.R. 4032, by voice vote, to authorize certain water transfers by the North Texas Municipal Water District and the Greater Texoma Utility Authority.

- H.R. 3110, by voice vote, to authorize the Interior secretary to permit members of the Hoonah Indian Association to collect the eggs of glaucous-winged gulls in certain parts of Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park.

- H.R. 930, by voice vote, to direct the Interior secretary to conduct a study on the feasibility of designating New Philadelphia, Illinois archaeological site as part of the National Park System.

- H.R. 4194, by voice vote, to eliminate certain federal reporting requirements, such as annual summaries of airport financial reports.

- H.R. 1501, by voice vote, to direct the Interior secretary to study whether the Prison Ship Martyr's Monument in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., should be included in the National Park System.