Managers of the Arland Towers Complex, the two 29-story high-rises in Rosslyn commonly referred to as the USA Today buildings, are no strangers to controversy.
The buildings' location, so near the flight path of planes at National Airport, bothered local residents. And then there was the disagreement over how large the signs on top of the first building could be.
Now that the second of the two 380-foot towers is complete, the sign controversy has returned.
Westfield Realty Inc., which manages and leases the buildings, has asked the Arlington County Board to approve new, larger signs for the towers -- a proposal that has brought letters of protest from officials at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission.
The signs -- one of which would say USA Today, and the other Gannett, for the company that owns the national newspaper headquartered in the first tower -- would ruin one of the most scenic views of Washington, both organizations say.
Roger L. Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center's board of trustees, said, "I don't think it's desirable to have them, especially near the capital of the U.S. . . . A lot of us were opposed to the buildings in the first place."
The board is scheduled to review Westfield's application Aug. 17.
Westfield Realty originally asked the county planning commission for permission for a 9-by-56 foot sign for the building housing Gannett offices and a 10-by-78 foot sign toreplace the existing 5 1/2-by-45 foot sign already atop the USA Today headquarters. They also asked for a third street-level sign for a Jacobs Gardner office supply store.
On Monday, the commission recommended approving the signs, but with size limits of 6-by-47 feet for the USA Today sign and 6-by-38 feet for the Gannett sign. It also recommended that no other rooftop signs be permitted.
The County Board has traditionally ruled in favor of smaller, less obtrusive signs, Chairman John Milliken said yesterday.
"We do debate back and forth on the merits of whether we should inform people as to what and where a building is and how obtrusive the signs are," he added. "But we usually come down primarily on the side of visual attractiveness."
The National Capital Planning Commission letter said the signs would cause "significant adverse impact on the view from several memorials," the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Rock Creek Park, Potomac Park, Georgetown and the Kennedy Center. "The Commission strongly objects to this increase in signs and asks that it be denied," it said. The Kennedy Center board of trustees objected to the signs in a separate letter.
Brad Goodnuth of Westfield Realty said no one has ever complained to him about the existing or proposed signs.
"The sign is so high up there that nobody notices," he said. "The signs are only for identification. One of the buildings is known as the USA Today building because of the sign and I guess the other one will be called the Gannett building. That's okay with us."