Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus said yesterday he has asked his department's lawyers to advise him it the federal government can sue Arlington developers to block planned high-rise construction in Rosslyn that he said would "have a devastating impact on the skyline of the nation's capital."
New buildings proposed for the area, across the Key Bridge from Georgetown, would soar to heights of 22, 24 and 29 stories - well above the 13-story limit imposed on buildings in Washington and Arlington's own 15-story limit.
His action is the strongest step any federal agency has taken to stop the Rosslyn development. Last month Arlington County Board members turned aside requests from four federal agencies that they reconsider plans for the area on a Potomac River bluff overlooking the Kennedy Center and much of Washington's historic Mall.
Andrus also instructed Interior lawyers to take any legal action possible under federal laws against developer Charles M. Fairchild, who last week cut down 200 to 300 trees on land along the George Washington Memorial Parkway south of the National Airport.
"The nation's capital is unique because it belongs to all the people, not just a few interests who are looking at nothing more than personal financial remuneration," Andrus said of both his actions.
Fairchild, who has complained that Interior and its National Park Service are "stalling" his long-sought Potomac Center development, has been charged with violating Alexandria's three-week-old tree ordinance, which requires a city permit before cutting mature trees.
Andrus instructed Interior lawyers to join with Alexandria, "as a friend of the court," in prosecuting Fairchild under the tree law. Fairchild is scheduled for appearance in Alexandria's U.S. District Court Wednesday on the tree charge, which carries a maximum fine of $500 and a six month jail sentence.
In addition, Andrus directed that the bridge interchange plan linking Fairchild's development to the parkway before the park service approves it.
Fairchild is proposing to build a $300 million highrise development south of the airport on railroad land he is leasing. Under a 1970 agreement with the park service be traded 29 acres of marshland south of Alexandria for the right to build an entrance onto the parkway for his highrise project.
Referring to both the tree-cutting and Rosslyn highrises, Andrus said yesterday. "I would hate to see this type of degradation take place at any time in our history, but certainly not while we have stewardship of the area."
The part service maintains the parkway, the mall and more than 50,000 acres of federal parkland around Washington.
The Arlington high-rises have been approved over a period of several years, but park service officials say there was little publicity and inadequate notice of the impact that the uate notice of the impact that the the Washington skyline.
A spokesman for the Arlington planing office said yesterday the required legal notice was given federal agencies on the highrises. County Supervisor Walter L. Frankland said yesterday, "I'm not aware that there is any federal interest" involved in the county's approval of any highrise buildings "and their complaints came in after the action was taken."
The federal Fine Arts Commission has for almost 20 years opposed highrise construction in Rosslyn as detracting from what is a national historic sight the view from the U.S. Captiol, the Mall and its monuments, the Kennedy Center and nearby Arlington Cemetery.