The Justice Department has asked a federal appeals court in Richmond to order the Arlington County Board and four development companies to limit the height of four controversial high-rise buildings already under construction in Rosslyn.

In a brief filed late Wednesday in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the government charged that Arlington County is violating its own zoning ordinances by permitting the buildings to exceed established height standards.

The suit was initiated last winter on the instructions of Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus. Andrus argued that the buildings, designed to be 24 and 29 stories tall, would blight the Washington skyline and visually overwhelm monuments in the area.

If the Justice Department appeal succeeds, it will overturn the Feb. 21 ruling of U.S. District Judge Oren R. Lewis, which stated in part: "Height alone is not enough. . .and offense to esthetic senses is not sufficient to constitute a public nuisance."

Mary Ann Walsh, a Justice Department attorney involved in the case, said the issue of whether the buildings are a "public nuisance" will be abandoned in the appeal. She said the question now raised by Justice is whether the county has "unlimited discretion" in applying its own zoning laws. "We want the county to adhere to [its] own ordinance," she said.

While the Justice Department will not ask the appeals court to stop construction on the buildings, it will ask that the height of the buildings be limited to "allow for a consistent skyne," she said.

The lawyer for the developers and the county, John J. Sabourin Jr., declined comment, saying he had not had sufficient time to study the government's new brief.

The developers involved in the suit are the Arland Towers Co., the Twin Development Corp., 1300 N. 13th Street Associates and Theodore B. Gould. Arland Towers Co. is building two 29-story office buildings in the 1700 bock of N. Lynn Street, as well as a hotel at 1101 Wilson Blvd. The other developers have joined together to build a 24-story office building in the 1600 block of N. Fort Myer Drive.