A developer that wants to build an 11-story office building on Duke Street is taking the City of Alexandria to court today, opening a legal battle that could help decide whether high-rise structures will be allowed along the busy corridor.

First Ameriland Development and Construction Co., which wants to build a medical office tower at Duke Street and Quaker Lane, and the city, which has blocked Fadco's plan for eight months, are scheduled to begin arguments in Alexandria Circuit Court this morning.

Fadco filed suit in February, contending that the city has no legal right to halt its project. The suit asks the court to strike down a city ordinance limiting the height of buildings along much of Duke Street to 50 feet.

The Fadco office would stand almost 150 feet tall.

The controversy began in October when Fadco presented its proposal to city planning officials. The developer said it intended to construct an 11-story building, the maximum height allowed under the property's commercial zoning.

Shortly afterward, the Alexandria City Council began work on an ordinance placing a 50-foot height limit on buildings along Duke Street in the city's West End.

On Nov. 25, the City Council passed the ordinance, which created a Duke Street Height District running from Longview Drive west to Holmes Run Parkway. On Jan. 13, the council rejected Fadco's 11-story site plan.

Fadco contends that the city's action was illegal for two reasons. First, the developer argues, the City Council did not provide proper legal notice before it adopted the height ordinance. Because of this, Fadco argues, the ordinance should be declared invalid.

Second, Fadco contends that it has a legal right to develop its property under the commercial zoning classification it held before the height ordinance was passed. Because the developer showed city officials its plan before the ordinance took effect and because it had spent a substantial amount of money on the plan, Fadco argues that it has a vested right to move ahead.

In a motion filed Friday, City Attorney Philip G. Sunderland called Fadco's contentions "absurd and impractical."

Sunderland said city planners studied Duke Street in 1983 and came up with recommendations to protect residential developments from commercial encroachment. The study urged the council to limit the height of buildings along the street.

Fadco "seeks to create a new and expanded vested {property} rights rule," Sunderland said in the brief. If property owners win this increased latitude, he said, it will be "gravely prejudicial to the city's power and obligation to protect the health, safety and welfare of its inhabitants."