High-Rises Approved That Would Dwarf D.C.

A computer image of the proposed office building, looking south from the proposed plaza between it and the new residential building.
A computer image of the proposed office building, looking south from the proposed plaza between it and the new residential building. (Courtesy Jbg Cos.)
By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Arlington County Board yesterday approved construction of two high-rise towers in Rosslyn that would be the tallest buildings in the Washington area, rejecting concerns that the structures would endanger aircraft and overshadow the skyline of the nation's capital.

Arlington officials say they hope the project will transform Rosslyn, a commuter-clogged suburb crammed with outdated boxy buildings, into a modern development that would attract more tourism. They gave the project a unanimous nod in defiance of the Federal Aviation Administration, which called it a possible threat to air safety for jets flying in and out of Reagan National Airport. The FAA could still block the project.

The pair of high-rises -- one 31 stories tall, the other 30 -- would be built by Maryland-based development firm JBG Cos. The taller of the two structures, at 388 feet high, would be 76 feet higher than the silver towers that now scrape the sky over Arlington, including one best known as the former USA Today headquarters.

The new buildings -- bounded by North Lynn Street, Wilson Boulevard, North Moore Street and 19th Street -- would be within a few blocks of Key Bridge, which spans the Potomac River between the county and Georgetown. One high-rise would be a residential building with 350 units; the other, an office tower with an observation deck offering unparalleled views of the District.

"It will become Rosslyn's main attraction," said Jim Pebley, an Arlington planning commissioner. "It will beat anything else in the capital, including the Washington monument. It will be where you take your folks when they come to visit."

The project represents Arlington's latest effort to revitalize its Rosslyn office core, which was densely developed in the 1960s. In subsequent years, development leapfrogged Rosslyn for points farther south and west.

Now, with the housing market sagging, pulling down real-estate assessments, many local governments are looking for new sources of revenue. County Chairman Paul Ferguson made a point of stressing that the development was expected to generate $3 million a year in tax assessments.

Some business owners have begun marketing Rosslyn as "Manhattan on the Potomac."

But the FAA ruled in November 2006 that the taller office tower could be a "presumed hazard" for aircraft approaching National. JBG has appealed the FAA evaluation, noting that the agency previously approved the residential tower, and is awaiting a final decision.

"We think the chances are good" that FAA officials will rule favorably, said Kathleen Webb, a principal with JBG. Arlington will not issue final building permits unless the FAA accepts the height, she said.

During yesterday's meeting, Arlington officials pressured JBG executives to provide free admittance to the observation deck to county residents two days a week. Initially, no one would be charged admission, but following that initial period, non-county residents would be.

How much isn't clear. A planning department document suggested $3 a person, but officials were told that other sights offering spectacular vistas, such as the Empire State Building in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago, also privately owned, charge as much as $15.

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