The Monument Myth


You often hear that the height limit for buildings in Washington, DC has something to do with the Washington Monument or the dome of the Capitol Building. As this We Love DC post explains that’s wrong. The actual rule is that a building can be no more than 20 feet taller than the width of the street it’s on. Given that DC folks both seem very attached to the policy and also mistaken as to what the policy is, I’ve often wanted to propose that we actually adopt the rule that people think we have, limiting buildings to the height of the Washington Monument. This would approximately triple the permitted density in the central business district.

The We Love DC Folks say they like the short buildings where the are, citing aesthetic considerations. As I’ve said before, I’m sympathetic to this, but folks who want to cite this idea owe it to us to account honestly for the facts. If I were to tell folks in my neighborhood that it would be nice to see a park nearby, I’m sure they all agreed. But if I followed up that the cost of the park was going to be billions of dollars in new taxes, support would probably vanish. The cost of the severe restriction on building height in the central business district and near Metro stations throughout the city is hidden from view, but that makes the lost tax revenue, reduced job opportunities for low income Washingtonians, increased job sprawl and air pollution, etc. all no less real.