Alexander's Three Penthouse Restaurant in Rosslyn, where diners include senators, generals and area businessmen, may soon lose much of its biggest attraction, the panoramic view of Washington Cathedral.
The Arlington County Board has approved site plans for three high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn, which restaurant owner Alexander J. Inglese says will cut out his diners' view of the Potomac River, the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, the Capitol, the Watergate complex and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
"In most restaurants the most difficult problem is maintaining a chef and internal control," Inglese said. "But because I'm on a rooftop, I'm at the mercy of what's out there."
The buildings have also aroused the interest of the Federal Commission of Fine Arts, according to its secretary, Charles Atherton.
"We're very concerned about what we view as a very dramatic increase in the height limit without a public discussion," he said. "What we're concerned about is that all of it (the skyline) is growing and people don't know about it."
To illustrate his point, Atherton said that one of the buildings, the Arland Towers development, would be the same height as the Washington Cathedral, a landmark visible in many areas of the city and surrounding suburbs.
Inglese said that when he leased his restaurant in January 1973, he believed that county zoning ordinances and Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibited construction of any buildings higher than the AM building at 1500 Wilson Blvd., which is topped by his restaurant 333 feet above sea level.
But in the last year the County Board has approved final site plans for a building above the Rosslyn Center Metro stop that will be 351 feet above sea level, a building at 1300 N. 17th St. that will be 357 feet above sea level and the 29-story Arland Towers complex at 1101 Wilson Blvd. that will be 80 feet above sea level.
The three buildings would be the tallest structures in Rosslyn and are being constructed on some of its last available high rise development sites. County officials could identify only two other possible sites for high rises, one where Tom Sarris's Orleans House restaurant is located on Wilson Boulevard and the other at Kent and 19th streets where a 14-story office building is being planned.
The Rosslyn Center building, owned by Majestic Builders, is under construction, but work has not yet begun on the Arland Towers complex, owned by Stanley Westreich. The building on N. 17th Street, known as the Noland Tract, is owned by Theodore B. Gould. Excavation is underway there.
The county zoning code specifies that buildings in the high-density use zoning of Rosslyn should stand no more than 153 feet from the average ground elevation, a limit exceeded by all three buildings as well as the AM building. The four buildings also exceed density limits for the area.
But County Attorney Jerry Emrich said the code also give the board discretion to waive the height and density limits, especially if other concessions are received from the developer.
In an emotional appeal to the board Tuesday, Inglese asked the county staff to answer a list of 30 questions dealing with the site plan at 1300 N. 17th St., and say how the caculations of office density were made. He is requesting that if improprieties are found, the board reconsider its approval of the plan.
"I can certainly understand his motivation," board member Walter L. Frankland Jr. said. "I think all he'll have left (after the buildings go up) is an uninhibited view of Highway 50 going west."
Frankland said it would have been better for Inglese to bring up these issues when the board originally considered the site plans since the plans offere the "possibility of seriously damaging an individual's ability to make a living," something the board had not considered.
Inglese said he did not appear at the meetings because he did not realize the hearings on the sites were being held or that plans for the area would so drastically affect him.
County officials say there is little chance that the approval will or could be revoked.
Inglese says he fears that the loss of the view could destroy his business where he serves between 100 to 250 dinners and 180 to 200 lunches a day. As an example, he said the restaurant is booked for the Fourth of July a year in advance, and the loss of the view could cost him between $4,000 and $5,000 on that night alone.