Rosslyn High-Rise Gets FAA Go-Ahead

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Federal Aviation Administration has given the go-ahead to a controversial 31-story skyscraper in Rosslyn that some critics said raised safety concerns for aircraft flying into and out of Reagan National Airport.

The FAA ruled Wednesday that the proposed building poses "no hazard to air navigation." The agency will, however, require the building's developer, JBG Cos., to reduce the structure's 387-foot height by three feet to ensure safe landings in poor weather and will require special lights to be installed atop the structure so pilots can see it easier.

"It's the final clearance on the approval of the building," said Terry Holzheimer, director of economic development for Arlington County. "Their intention is to begin construction in mid-2008."

The FAA cautioned, however, that development of additional high-rises along the Virginia side of the Potomac River could present "a cumulative and unacceptable impact on radar performance" for aircraft.

"I personally think we shouldn't build any higher," said Jim Pebley, an Arlington planning commissioner.

Arlington has staked much of its future economic development and the expansion of its tax base on development projects in Rosslyn and Crystal City. Holzheimer said that Arlington does not want to build anything that is "not safe" but that the county needs to use its "limited land" to build as "densely" as possible. He said the county has asked the FAA to do a comprehensive study of the area instead of looking at each building individually so Arlington can decide what height levels are safe and appropriate.

The high-rise building, to be called Central Place, will become a significant landmark in Northern Virginia. It will stand more than 70 feet taller than the two silver towers that are now the tallest buildings in Rosslyn, including the one best known as the former USA Today headquarters. It is one of a pair of structures proposed for the site and will feature offices and an observation deck overlooking the Potomac River and Washington. The second will be a 350-unit, 30-story residential tower, also featuring spectacular views.

Some aviation experts had criticized the construction of the office high-rise. In May, Leo J. Schefer of the Washington Airports Task Force said he thought it was a bad idea to construct tall buildings in the flight paths of airports. He would not comment on the ruling yesterday because he said he had not yet reviewed it.

Some Arlington residents had also expressed concern about the proposed high-rises. Last year, the Arlington County Civic Federation passed a resolution urging county officials not to permit buildings taller than 300 feet if they posed a possible threat to air travel.

The FAA's ruling will assuage those worries, said Larry Mayer, president of the civic association, who said some residents remain unhappy about the project and wonder whether the FAA handled the proposal responsibly.

"I knew the developer hired people to lobby it through," Mayer said.

Kathleen Webb, a principal at JBG, said the company hired an aviation consultant, not a lobbyist, and put no pressure on the FAA. She said the firm is pleased that the FAA gave the building the thumbs-up and has adjusted the building plans to reduce the height by three feet.

"We don't believe the FAA would have approved it if it wasn't safe," Webb said. "This is one more step in the renaissance of Rosslyn."

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