With Approval Of FAA, a Final Tower Is Set to Rise in Rosslyn

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 28, 2007; B01

Another superstructure, a 370-foot, 30-story skyscraper crowned with a transparent pyramid, will soon be rising on the Rosslyn skyline.

It might become a landmark in Arlington County: the last building of its size to be approved in Rosslyn, where the Federal Aviation Administration has put a lid on the soaring skyline out of concern for airline safety.

The office building, named for its address at 1812 N. Moore St., will have more energy-efficient features than any other in Virginia. To win approval, the developer, Arlington-based Monday Properties, promised record contributions toward transit improvements and the county's affordable-housing fund.

It is the last of a trio of monumental buildings that Arlington has approved for construction in the past six months. The other two -- a 30-story residential tower and a 31-story office building together known as Central Place -- were approved by the county in May. The taller of the two will be 76 feet higher than the silver tower that once served as headquarters of USA Today.

Under pressure from the FAA, which determines whether construction projects interfere with air safety, the developer agreed to reduce the height of the newest structure by 30 feet. That places it closer to the height limits permitted by the FAA for the two other towers.

Three groups, whose names were not revealed in the FAA findings, objected to the building, saying it would pose a hazard for jets taking off from Reagan National Airport, or for aircraft instrument operations. In July 2006, the agency had ruled that the building, originally proposed at 414 feet, posed a "presumed hazard to air navigation" unless it was reduced to a height of 206 feet.

But the developer sought and obtained an additional review, and the FAA recently announced that its officials had worked with the developer to "mitigate the potential impacts." It said the height reduction meant that the proposed building posed "no substantial adverse effect."

The FAA issued its no-hazard ruling in November, hours before Arlington officials were scheduled to meet to discuss the building. On Dec. 15, the County Board voted 4 to 1 to approve rezoning of the site to allow the office building to proceed.

Construction is expected to begin in the summer and last 18 months.

Board member Chris Zimmerman voted against the zoning change, arguing that the developer was being permitted to build a larger structure than should have been allowed on the 1.38-acre site bounded by North Moore Street, North 19th Street and North Fort Myer Drive.

The FAA warned in its advisory that any further tall-building development in Arlington could interfere with radar coverage, posing a "cumulative and unacceptable impact on radar performance."

Flight-safety concerns will be a continuing issue as Arlington forges ahead with plans to redevelop nearby Crystal City with taller buildings as well. Arlington has been hoping to reduce the economic damage it will suffer when thousands of federal workers leave Crystal City as part of the federal base realignment, and it has planned to build taller buildings there to market the views to the private sector.

Zimmerman said the county has asked the FAA to do a comprehensive study of the area surrounding the airport to help Arlington set appropriate height limits.

"They have the regulatory power, and it's up to them," he said. "We'll do what they tell us."

At the board meeting, Planning Commissioner Jim Pebley testified that he believed the county should consider implementing building height limits to address FAA concerns rather than dealing with the agency repeatedly as different buildings are proposed.

Some critics have questioned whether the rules restricting the construction of buildings on airport flight paths are restrictive enough. Leo J. Schefer, president of the Washington Airports Task Force, a nonprofit group that promotes economic development of the region's airports, said building high-rises near the airport "defies common sense."

According to the Web site of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, it is difficult for opponents to block construction projects because such buildings are part of "an extremely lucrative business."

Timothy Helmig, chief development officer for Monday Properties, was out of the country and could not be reached for comment. Other officials at the firm declined to comment on the FAA approval process.

Arlington has long sought to redevelop the Rosslyn area, viewed as an unattractive conglomeration of 1960s office buildings. It has given developers density bonuses for building top-notch buildings in that section of the county, asking them to offer plentiful "community benefits" to make the projects more palatable to county residents and leaders.

Monday Properties offered the county about $25 million in such community benefits to win approval of the 30-story tower, including a record $4.8 million for the county's affordable-housing fund, about $8.5 million toward transit improvements, including a new entrance to the Rosslyn Metro station and new bus shelters, and rent-free use of the former Newseum space, worth an estimated $6.9 million over 10 years. The new building will also be one of the most energy-efficient structures in the country.

These were benefits of particular appeal to specific members of the board. Zimmerman, who has served on the Metro board, is a mass transit expert; Paul Ferguson, who is leaving as board chairman to become clerk of court, made environment initiatives his signature issue; and J. Walter Tejada, the incoming board chairman, is a prominent advocate of affordable housing.

There is an existing 11-story building at the site, with ground-floor retail stores, and a Dominion Virginia Power substation. The substation will remain, redecorated as public art, but the office building will be torn down.

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