It may seem odd for a California senator to sponsor legislation that would tax a developer $1 million per vertical foot for the construction of an office building in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. But not when you consider the absurdity of constructing a 52-story, 850-foot office tower dominating our national city and its treasure of monuments.
The bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston would extend the District of Columbia's traditional building height limits into the surrounding region. The limits would be scaled so that the further from the capital, the taller a building could be. At the relatively close-in site of the proposed PortAmerica trade tower in Prince Georges County, the limit would be 14 stories--about what it is in downtown Washington.
The $1-million-a-foot assessment, to be levied through the federal tax code, would apply to every foot above the limit. This would increase the cost of the PortAmerica tower from an estimated $175 million to $575 million. Even that might be too cheap, considering the pall that the tower would cast over a unique city where height limits date virtually to its conception by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
No longer would the region be dominated by its three dramatic prominences: the Capitol, the National Cathedral and the 555-foot, 5 1/8-inch Washington Monument. An outraged Cranston said, "To proceed with this skyscraper is an act of sheer architectural arrogance." Quite so.
High-rise construction on the Virginia side of the District of Columbia already has encroached on Washington's spacious horizons. Office buildings rise to 31 stories in Rosslyn, and apartments near Alexandria's historic Old Town area are limited to 150 feet--15 to 18 stories.
This is not Manhattan--this area of Prince Georges County at the east end of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and on the approach to National Airport. There is plenty of open country in which to build all the office space that anyone conceivably could want--horizontally.