A routine local zoning case involving the use of a one-acre lot tucked into the Arlington hillside near the Iwo Jima Memorial has run into some obstacles: three federal agencies.
The issue is whether the Arlington County Board should permit developer Marvin Weissberg to build a 10-story luxury condominium building rather than the eight stories allowed by zoning law.
The extra two stories would "mar the scenic beauty of the Arlington ridgeline, these green hills where George Washington once rode," in the words of one resident opposed to the plan. The Commission on Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service agree with that sentiment.
Weissberg says that without the additional two stories he can't build the "esthetically pleasing type building" of $125,000 duplex condominiums with spectacular views of Washington and the Potomac River he has planned. He notes that his building would be two stories shorter than the Prospect House, a luxury apartment building, next to it.
"One mistake doesn't justify another," said Charles Atherton, secretary to the Commission of Fine Arts, who spoke in opposition to the proposal at a recent Arlington Planning Commission meeting.
"We tried unsuccessfully to discourage the erection of Prospect House 20 years ago," Atherton said. "Its one redeeming value is that when you stand on the Capitol steps, Prospect House is blocked by the Washington Monument. The proposed building . . . would be visible from the Capitol and that whole hillside is a national shrine.
Among the shrines Atherton cites are the Custis-Lee Mansion, Arlington National Cemetery and the graves of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Atherton's objections are echoed in letter to the board from officials of the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission the federal government's planning agency for the metropolitan area.
"I do not want to build the kind of mundane, boxlike building that's built in Arlington County," said Weissberg, who has built several high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn. His application for the condominium was endorsed by a subcommittee of the county planning commission. That decision was reversed last week by the full commission.
"They're going to push me into a box, literally and figuratively," Weissberg said. "Our building is so much smaller than the Prospect House. I just don't understand the opposition."
The board is scheduled to consider the case on Saturday.