The Arlington County Board yesterday unanimously approved plans for a $200 million luxury condominium and office complex near Crystal City despite protests from federal officials that the project will ruin the scenic vistas along the George Washington Parkway.
Several Arlington civic leaders also complained that the project -- to be built by the Charles E. Smith Co., a major Washington developer -- will exacerbate traffic congestion along Jefferson Davis Highway (Rte. 1).
The complex, originally called Airport City and recently renamed Crystal Park, is to be erected on 50 acres of land, now occupied by railroad tracks, between Crystal City and National Airport.
Construction of the new complex, which will contain a row of nine 12-story buildings with 600 condominium units, 2.2 million square feet of office space and a three-story parking garage, isn't expected to begin until the tracks are moved closer to the parkway.
The Smith firm agreed to contribute $100,000 -- $50,000 less than the National Park Service requested -- to plant trees and landscape the area near the parkway so the project will be less visible to motorists.
"This plan is the result of many years of Charles E. Smith experience," Barnes Lawson, the firm's attorney, told the Arlington board yesterday. "This is not some idiocy we just plunked on a model," he said, gesturing toward a model of the complex.
"All these things have been done by competent professionals," said Lawson. He said he was baffled by federal objections that the row-like buildings would mar the vistas along the parkway.
The National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service said that moving the tracks close to the parkway would ruin its scenic effect and objected to the "wall-like visual impact" the buildings would have.
Approval of the project was not a surprise, because members of the county board have long given priority to improving Arlington's tax base and strongly have resisted federal pressures to limit developments along the Potomac River in the county.
Arlington tax revenues ot about $2.4 million are expected to be generated by the complex.
Louise Chestnut an Arlington civic activist, said she thought it was "very stupid on the part of the county" to encourage further traffic congestion by approving the project. "Maybe we should just petition the General Assembly to change the name of Arlington to Smith County," Chestnut suggested.
"I like the name Arlington County very much," retorted Robert Smith, head of the Smith Co., he then reminded the board taht he would provide an estimated $500,000 in street improvements if the project were approved.
County planners, who supported the project, urged the board to approve it because it provides housing, something conspicuously lacking in Rosslyn, North Arlington's high rise office development.
"Obviously that [the housing] was not done as an altruistic move on the part of the Smith Co.," said Dick Herbst, president of the Arlington Ridge Civic Association which opposed Crystal Park. "I would like to see someone use a little more imagination when they design something. We simply to not appreciate continued, massive traffic congestion in South Arlington."
It was not traffic, but whether Smith should provide $150,000 or $100,000 to the Park Service to plant trees received lengthy consideration during yesterday's discussion.
Board members Ellen M. Bozman and Dorothy T. Grotos favored the $150,000 request, but Smith officials stood firm in their refusal to contribute more than $100,000.
"This is such a teensy little expence" in the overall $200 million project, said Bozman, whose proposal to require the larger expenditure was narrowly defeated by the five-member board.