A U.S. judge said yesterday that his decision on the U.S. government's request to block completion of four high-rise buildings in Rosslyn will be based solely on whether they would pose an esthetic "nuisance" if allowed to rise 24 and 29 stories as planned.
"I'm going to take the bullet and bite it, and say whether it's a nuisance or not," said U.S. District Court Judge Oren R. Lewis in announcing that he was taking the case under advisement. Lewis' statement came after a day of arguments in the suit filed last December at the request of Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus.
The suit names the Arlington County Board and developers of the buildings, two of which are under construction. In testimony last month, National Gallery of Art Director J. Carter Brown said the buildings near the Potomac River would be "a visual intrusion akin to an act of urban vandalism" and would "visually degrade" the skyline surrounding the national monuments.
Justice Department attorney Andrew Walch yesterday asked Lewis to declare the buildings public nuisances and to impose a maximum 20-story height limit in Rosslyn in order to protect "nearly 200 years" of architectural history.
"We need the permanent protection of absolute height limitations," said Walch in response to persistent questioning by Lewis about "what it is the government wants in this case."
Lewis' lengthy remarks on the case, made during arguments by lawyers representing both sides, left no clear indication which way he will rule.
After saying, "I can't forget that there wouldn't be any Rosslyn today if the federal government through GSA [the General Services Administration] hadn't rented it," Lewis said he would give "serious thought" to the government's nuisance claims.
Attorneys for the Arlington County Board and the developers attacked the esthetic nuisance argument as "vague and subjective." In court papers filed last month, Arlington attorneys said the buildings would "improve the quality of civilization" in the metropolitan area.
Grayson Hanes, attorney for the 29-story Arland Towers complex, for which ground was broken yesterday, dismissed testimony by expert witnesses like Brown as having no more validity than "if I'd brought someone in from 14th Street who runs the peep shows and he said the buildings are pretty."
"Esthetic nuisance cases just do not exist in the U.S.," Hanes said.