Building Height Limitations Are Unwise
There is a controversy in Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza. A developer would like to build a nine-story building on the Plaza. That doesn’t sound very high, especially in the place where they sang songs about seven-story skyscrapers.
Then again, in the song, they said that seven stories is about as high as a building oughta grow, and perhaps that explains the limits on building heights that they have in the Plaza, and, hence, the controversy.
The Plaza area has had height limits in place for three decades, although the limits were advisory until about three years ago when they became law. The limit for buildings is between three and five stories, depending on the location within the Plaza district.
I have been to the Plaza many times and I, like most people I know, love the look, feel, and vibe of it. But I think that the property rights of the developer along with the benefits of urban density make building height limits a questionable idea.
Kansas City is not the only city in Missouri with building height limits. St. Louis has them, too, in certain areas. I would imagine many other towns also have them, but they don’t come into play much. Nobody is proposing to put a 42-story office building in Poplar Bluff right now.
I think the most famous example of building height limits in the United States is Washington, D.C. Those very strict limits have certainly given our capital a consistent look, but they are undeniably one of the reasons housing and office costs in DC are so high.
Removing the height limits in Kansas City won’t make it Manhattan overnight (no, not that Manhattan). But if a developer wants to build an unsubsidized, tall building along the Plaza, shouldn’t the economic, social, and environmental benefits of allowing taller buildings be given greater weight than the desire to maintain a “consistent look” for an area, even an area as iconic as the Plaza?