The Alexandria City Council is getting down to the brass tacks -- or the bricks and mortar -- of its final design for the Torpedo Plant.

By a unanimous vote last week, the council gave its nod to the developer's proposed design for Building No. 3. The design, which the council sent to the city's Planning Commission, has been alternately condemned as being too massive, and praised as being too subtle.

One of the ironies is that Mayor Charles E. Bentley Jr. has done both the condemning and praising. The 74-foot-high building sits on the city waterfront. Under developer Charles R. Hooff's plan, the high-density office building would generate revenues needed by both Hooff and the city to compenate for less lucrative parts of the complex.

The council recently agreed with proposals by its staff to sell the building and one other to Hooff, although the actual vote on the sale has not been made. A sale requires at least six affirmative votes.

Last fall, Beatley questioned the design, saying that he feared the building would become part of a "brick curtain" stretching in unrelieved boredom across the waterfront.Those concerns prompted Beatley to ask the city planning staff to develop alternatives, which were presented to the council last week. The alternatives include keeping the building at its current height, but with less density, or eliminating its top story.

At last week's meeting, however, Beatley reversed his earlier opinion. By studying the original plans as they lay stretched across his dining table, Beatley said, he had begun to see "subtleties" and "good design qualities" that were not evident to him before. He said such "subtleties" made him feel that the developer's design would not create the "brick curtain" he had originally feared.

Since a zoning change must be approved before the city can sell the building to Hooff, Beatley urged that the bureaucratic process not be interrupted by argument over the final design. The council then voted to send the design to the Planning Commission.

Before the vote, former City Councilmember Ellen Pickering jumped up from her seat in the audience to say it was "unfair" for the Planning Commission to consider only one plan, and not the alternatives as well. Her comments were ignored by the council members.

Pickering did have an influence on another waterfront matter -- the question of what plans will be considered by the city and federal government as they attempt to resolve a 1973 federal title suit claim on the waterfront.

The suit, whose purpose was to stop construction of high-rise development, remained at a stalemate until last year, when the city produced a plan paralleling federal proposals, which fundamentally call for park land and open space.

A series of meetings, starting in March and aimed at ending the dispute, have been scheduled. A brochure lists proposals from the city, the Interior Department and the National Park Service.

Pickering insisted that options considered by the city but not finally approved -- particularly those calling for more open space near the river -- be included in the brochure.

City Manager Douglas Harman pointed out that the rejected alternatives were mentioned briefly in the brochure. As a "compromise," however, he said all plans considered by the city could be spelled out, a plan the council unanimously approved.

The council also gave its support to a proposal that would require landlords to install smoke-detectors in multiresidential buildings such as apartments and hotels.

Ralph Baird -- executive director of the Northern Virginia Apartment Association, whose 250 members and approximately 40,000 rental units -- opposed the plan. He said such devices, which are required in all new multiresidential buildings in the city, would be costly and would give tenants a false sense of security.

The proposal would require a change in the city charter, and under state law would require approval of the General Assembly, which is considering the measure this session.

The council also received a revised plan from the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad for a pooposed hotel and business complex on 10 acres the RF&P owns near the site of the future King Street Metro station. Architect-developer William Vosbeck has modified previous plans for the complex, criticized as being the massive.

The first plans called for a 300-room, 100-foot-tall hotel and were submitted to the council on the same night it lowered the height limit in the area to 77 feet.

In the new plans, the hotel would be 77 feet high, but would still have 300 rooms and would include a convention center and offices. The council took no action on the proposal, which must now start the lengthy process of consideration by the city staff.

In another action, the council gave "conceptual approval" to a developer's proposal to build a 300-unit high-rise for the elderly in the west end of town. p

The preliminary approval for Claridge House II was needed because the developer could not complete his application for low-cost state building loans without assurances that the city would eventually approve housing subsides for residents, a spokesman said.

Developer Maurice Lipmik also owns a similar project, known as Claridge House I, in Arlington.