After failing to block construction of several 29-story buildings in Rosslyn earlier this year, federal planning officials are now trying to derail plans for a new neighborhood of high rises near Arlington's Ballston Metro station.
At the same time, planning officials expressed concern about a mile-long "wall of offices and apartments proposed opposite National Airport, between the Georgetown Washington Memorial Parkway and Crystal City.
The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the federal planning agency for the Washington area, last week asked the Arlington County Board to defer action on its new masterplan for the Ballston area until the agency studies the impact of highrises on the Washington skyline.
The commission also objected to a plan to build a row of 12-story office and apartment buildings, to be known as Crystal Park. County planners and the developer were asked to revise the plan so it would harmonize with the George Washington Parkway. Crystal Park would be located east of Crystal City overlookin the parkway.
In asking for the revisions, federal officials said the buildings would have a greater visual impart on the parkway than the 15- to 18 story buildings in Crystal City, because the new buildings would be much closer to the parkway.
"They will appear exactly twice as high" as the Crystal City buildings, National Park Service Ranger David Murphy told the planning Commission.
The Ballston and Crystal Park discussions are a continuation of federal concern about development in Virginia areas just across the Postomac River from the District.
Last fall, the Interior Department filed suit against Arlington in an effort to stop the county from waiving its 16-story height limit and allowing the construction of at least two 29-story highrises in Rosslyn. The original suit and a later appeal were both dismissed.
In filing the suit, Secretary of Interior Cecil D. Andrus called the Rosslyn buildings "monsters" that detracted from the historic monuments and memorials in Washington. Arlington officials and developers accused the federal government of meddling in strictly local matters, and said they believed the highrises would "add visual beauty" and "improve the quality of civilization" in the Washington area.
Under a masterplan recently approved by the County Board, developers would be allowed to construct buildings as high as 24 stories in the Ballston area, five stories smaller than the tallest Rosslyn buildings. But because the Ballston buildings would be on a higher plateau, federal planners said, they also would be visible from the Mall and the steps of the Capitol.
The federal planning commission has contended that if the District, which has height limitation to protect the skyline around the Capitol, can build smaller and still commercially successful buildings, than Arlington can also.
At a meeting May 1, the federal planning commission approved a resolution asking Arlington to limit the building heights in the Ballston area to 13 stories. That action was rescinded last week, but the commission did vote to ask Arlington to delay action on Ballston construction until the commission completes a study of the Washington skyline.
The study, which is now underway, which may include specific height proposals to protect the views from the Capitol, White House and the historic Mall area, commission officials said.
In its request to revise the Crystal Park development, the planning commission praised plans for four, curved 150-feet high apartment buildings, which would resemble the Watergate. The major criticism of both planners and the National Park Service focused on two other parts of the plan -- relocation of railroad tracks near the George Washington Parkway and a row of five, 175-feet high office buildings. g
The tracks would be moved to within 15 feet of the parkway, which the Park Service and planning commission contend would be so close to ruin the scenic effect of the parkway.
The two agencies also said the office buildings were too high and created a "wall-like visual impact . . . as seen from the parkway, the (Roaches Run Wildlife) Sanctuary and the airport."
To alleviate both problems, the planning commission asked that a 30-foot-wide, landscaped berm of earth be built to screen the railroad tracks and row of office and apartments. In addition, the commission asked that the developer contribute funds to plant additional trees along the parkway on Park Service Land. A spokesman for the developer told the commission the 49-acre site is too narrow to build such a berm.
Ironically, while some federal agencies are objecting to high rises ringing the Nation's Capital, the federal agency in charge of finding office space for federal employes has been encouraging the contruction of more highrises in area suburbs by leasing space in many of them even before they're built.
The General Service Administration has leased space for thousands of federal employes in Rosslyn and Crystal City. In the Ballston area, the Department of Defense and Office of Emergency Preparedness already lease space in six existing office buildings, and the Department of Interior leases space in a seventh, according to NCPC.
While the NCPC reviews construction of all federal buildings in the Washington area, it has no say over the leasing of buildings.