The Alexandria Board of Architectural Review may consider a proposal Wednesday to construct a five-story, 29,000-square-foot office and retail building in the 100 block of South Union Street. The building would overlook Waterfront Park and the Potomac River.

Board staff members have asked the city attorney whether it should consider the case in light of a lawsuit filed Dec. 2 against the city by the project's developers, Ellsworth-Howell. The suit contends that a waterfront building height limit passed by the City Council Oct. 13 should not apply to the proposed building.

The ordinance limits building height to 30 feet, or 50 feet with a special use permit from the Planning Commission and final approval from the City Council.

The proposed building would be 50 feet high, with two levels of parking and three levels of office and retail space. It would have about 56 parking spaces, 1,230 square feet of ground-level retail space facing South Union Street, and about 28,000 square feet of office space. A parking lot now occupies the site. The proposed parking spaces would not be for public use.

The proposal was approved by the Planning Commission Oct. 7, less than a week before the height limit was changed by the council from 50 feet without needing a special use permit from the Planning Commission.

"We feel we have the right to build a 50-foot building because we received our approval from the Planning Commission before the {lower height limit} ordinance was passed by the council," said Sam Ellsworth, a partner of the Ellsworth-Howell development firm.

Robert Dempsey, president of the influential Old Town Civic Association, said he knows of no opposition to the proposed building.

"I have not seen the architectural plans for the building, but one of my board members has seen the plans and he says the building is attractive and very sensitive to the ambiance of the Old and Historic District," over which the board has jurisdiction, Dempsey said. The Old and Historic District is composed of Old Town and some other parts of the city.

The building would look like two separate buildings, one of brick and one of brick and stone. An alley, to be used as a loading area, would separate the structure from an existing two-story brick building that houses a book and record store on the north side of the site.