For more than two years, the tan and white high-rise condominium complex with red stripes has stood just off Jefferson Davis Highway, taunting Arlington officials who consider it a monument to what can go wrong with a development.

When they approved the 21-story Bella Vista condominium project, officials assumed the building would be brick. But the developer, Della Ratta Inc., covered the 205-unit building at 1211 S. Eads St. with panels made of gypsum board, plastic foam synthetic netting and a coating to protect it from the elements.

County Board members were, to say the least, not pleased. They said that a 1986 letter to Della Ratta officials clearly stated that brick was to have been used at Bella Vista, but Della Ratta officials said they never received the letter and thought the synthetic stucco was acceptable.

So yesterday when Della Ratta's proposal for another high-rise condominium building next to the Bella Vista came before them, board members became exterior decorators.

For about a half-hour, Arlington's top officials talked with Della Ratta's attorney, John Cahill, telling him exactly what was acceptable for the planned 17-story building and what wasn't.

Go ahead and use the same material, they said, but tone down the colors. No bright white panels. No racy stripes. They settled on a single color for the building, a shade of tan that the makers of the panels call "prairie clay."

Unlike Della Ratta's first high-rise, the new one, which will have 148 condominiums, should fit in with the office and apartment buildings that surround it in Crystal City.

Board members, noting several complaints from Bella Vista residents about how easily the building's shell can be damaged, reluctantly agreed to allow Della Ratta to use similar gypsum-board panels on the second building.

The county board has required Della Ratta to set up an escrow account of $278,000 to cover repairs to Bella Vista's shell, and warned Cahill that it will closely monitor maintenance and repairs at both buildings.

Board members William T. Newman Jr. and Albert C. Eisenberg criticized the developer's maintenance record, with Eisenberg referring to the developer's work as "Repairs R Us."

Cahill said Della Ratta will improve its repair efforts, and said the "cosmetic" problems at Bella Vista are "similar to those you'd find in any new development."

"This project is an example of something that wasn't done right," Eisenberg said. "The length of our process here today is an indication of how unhappy this board is with this project . . . and with this developer."