The federal government's efforts to block construction of controversial high-rise buildings in Rosslyn were rebuffed yesterday by a federal appeals court in Richmond.
The Interior Department had sought to halt construction of four Rosslyn office and hotel buildings, charging that they would despoil Washington's skyline. Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus denounced the buildings as unsightly "monsters."
The complaints by Andrus and other federal officials were rejected, however, by U.S. District Court Judge Oren R. Lewis in a ruling issued last February. Yesterday, Lewis' decision was upheld by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We agree with the District Court's basic conclusion," the appeals panel said. A key issue in the appellate decision was an Arlington County zoning ordinance governing high-rise buildings. The appeals judges found that Arlington officials had properly complied with the zoning ordinance and could not be accused of acting "unreasonably or arbitrarily."
The federal government had contended that Arlington officials violated height and density limits set by the ordinance.
An Interior Department spokesman said yesterday Andrus was disappointed by the appellate court's ruling and would ask federal lawyers to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to warrant further appeals. "He would like to see it carried up to the very highest court, if there is any way to do it," the spokesman for Andrus said.
Construction is already under way on the four controversial buildings, which are designed to rise as high as 29 stories on a Virginia bluff overlooking the Potomac River, Georgetown, the Kennedy Center and Roosevelt Island. They are expected to be the tallest buildings in the Washington area.
Arlington officials waived a 16-story height limit in exchange for public improvements financed by the buildings' developers.County officials accused Andrus of meddling in a local zoning issue, and asserted that the new buildings would "add visual beauty" and "improve the quality of civilization" in the Washington area.
The federal government initially argued that the high-rise buildings would constitute a public nuisance by obstructing the Potomac skyline. But this contention was rejected by Judge Lewis, and federal lawyers did not reassert this claim in their appeal.
In yesterday's appeals court decision, Judge Donald S. Russell wrote that the "single issue" was whether Arlington officials properly interpreted zoning procedures in granting the height-limit waiver.The court concluded that they did.