A federal judge asked for more documentation yesterday in the U.S. government's attempt to block completion of four high-rise buildings in Rosslyn, remarking that he wants to determine whether the suit was "just the whim of the current secretary of the interior."
The suit was filed last month at the personal request of Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus. It names the Arlington County Board and developers of the structures, arguing that the buildings, designed to be 24 and 29 stories tall, would "visually degrade" Washington's skyline and should be scaled down to 15 stories.
U.S. District Court Judge Oren R. Lewis asked Justice Department attorneys to file additional papers, then continued the case until Feb. 8.
Several times yesterday, the judge exhorted attorneys to "get the case in focus and quit all this foolishness. I don't know whether you gentlemen are trying to awe me or the Court of Appeals," he said, referring to large numbers of charts and photographs both sides presented as evidence.
On Monday, government witnesses, including the director of the National Gallery of Art, testified that completion of the tall buildings would be "akin to an act of urban vandalism" because they would degrade the skyline surrounding Washington's monuments.
Much of yesterday's testimony by defense witnesses centered on possible financial losses if building height were restricted.
Developer Theodore B. Gould testified he did not know whether he could recoup some of the $10 million loss he said would result if the 24-story mirrored black glass building he is constructing were scaled down.
Judge Lewis called the testimony about possible losses "remote from the issue in this case."
The Justice Department contends that the buildings would be a "public nuisance" and has accused the Arlington County Board of violating zoning laws by approving the buildings and of, in effect, selling zoning to Gould in exchange for a donation of parkland valued at $1 million.
Arlington officials have denied any impropriety and contend in court papers that the structures would "add visual beauty" and "improve the quality of civilization" in the Washington area.
Lewis instructed Justice Department attorney Andrew Walch to provide further evidence on the right of the federal government to sue "over construction of anything on private property in the sovereign state of Virginia.
"I've got a very open mind on this," he said. "I have no doubt that the federal government has an inherent right to take all of Arlington County if they want to [through condemnation], including my house, but they're not doing that here."