The Interior Department sued yesterday to stop construction of five high-rise office buildings in Rosslyn that Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus said will rise like "monsters" above Washington's carefully planned skyline.
Arlington County officials and developers reacted with outrage to the federal suit, said to mark the first federal suit, said to mark the first time a federal agency has sued a local government over its right to approve such projects.
The planned Rosslyn buildings, on a Virinia bluff overlooking the Kennedy Center and Roosevelt Island, will rise up to 29 stories-twice as high as any buildings now there.
"These monsters would ruin the skyline," said Andrus, who personally initiated the suit after arlington County Board members rejected federal pleas that they stop the projects.
"This is a bunch of crap," angrily snapped Arlington deputy planning director Thomas C. Parker when told of the suit. "I think it's incredible that a cabinet officer would inject himself into a local land-use matter," said Arlington Board Chairman John W. Purdy.
But Andrus insisted that the Interior Department, which is responsible for preserving much of the area around Washingtont's public monuments, had an obligation to bring the suit.
"The nation's capital belongs to all the people, but since 1791 when Pierre L'Enfact drew up his plan for the capital, private interests have attempted to subvert if for financial remuneration," he said in an interview yesterday. "Somebody has to be willing to stick their own neck out to stop the visual degradation."
In its 23-page lawsuit against the county board and developers of the five buildings, federal lawyers allege that Arllington:
Violated its own zoning laws by approving the "excessively tall buildings."
Failed to give adequate notice to federal officials before approving the buildings.
In effect "sold zoning" to developer Theodore B. Gould in exchange for his $1 million purchase of a tract of land the county had been trying to sell for several years. County officials admit that Gould's purchase of the land depended on their approval of a 24-story building, one of two now under-construction in Rossyln.
In addition the suit requests an immediate court injuction against furhter constrcuton there. One of the disputed buildings, the 22-story Rosslyn Center, located atop a Metro station, is scheduled for completion in three weeks. Construction of a three-building 29-story Arland Towers complex is slated to begin shortly.
Rosslyn Center, which will be the area's tallest office building, "might be a fait accompli," Adrnus conceded, "but I don't plan to twiddle my thumbs and wake up one morning to find all five buildings in place and the area a jungle of skyscrapers."
"We've never heard of a suit like this," said Mark Croke, a spokesman for the National Association of Counties, which represents three-quarters of the counties the U.S. It's pretty weird when the federal government sues a locality."
Arlington County Board Chiarman Dorothy T. Grotos said yesterday she agreed with the claim that the new buildings will deface the Washington skyline. But she has said the county is powerless to stop them."
"Our notification procedures are inadequate, Grotos said. "From our advertisements in the legal notices section, (of newspaper classified advertising) people have no way of knowing what we're really doing."
"Sometimes we make the wrong decisions but we have to rely on staff members for the information," he said. County officials said they will fight the action in court.
"The height of those buildings were certainly not disguised to members of the County Board," said county planner Parker. The five buildings, like most in Rosslyn, exceed the county's 12-story height limit, he said. County approval for talker buildings was granted, Parker said, in exchange for financial concessions such as the land donated by Gould.
Arlington officials have repeatedly insisted that such concessions, transformed Rosslyn from a seedy jumble of pawnshops and lumberyards to a booming piece of real estate and did so at little expense to local taxpayers.
Granting height variances for such buildings, they say, is legal in Virginia, where property taxes provide the bulk of local governments an incentive for new building projects.
"These are what you call tradeoffs," said board member Walter L. Frankland Jr. "We sold that land for a public purpose and $1 million is a lot of money to Arlington taxpayers. We did not sell zoing."
"This suit is arbitrary, capricious and unconstitutional," said developer Gould. "We did not not buy zoning and we had legal advice far more competent than the Justice or Interior Department lawyers."
"Those guys don't know what they are talking abou," planner Parker said, differing with Gretos over allegations that the county did not follow adequate notification procedures before approving the buildings.
"The only legal requirement is that we advertise in a local newspaper," Parker said. Andrus claimed yesterday that because of federal ownership of the George Washington Memorial near Rosslyn, his department should have been notified in advance of the buildings' approval.
"We've tried to keep the lines of communication open (in Arlington)," Andrus said, "but it's been going very poorly."
County officials and the Rosslyn developers have compalined bitterly that they first learned of Andrus' complaints in the newspaper. "i'd like to know where the federal government was when we approved these buildings," said board member Frankland yesterday.
"My building has been under construction since September 1977, said Stanley Zupnik, developer of the soon-to-be completed Rosslyn Center. "Where have they been?"
Stanley Westreich, developer of the Arland Towers complex, could not be reached.
Named as defendants in the suit were Arland Towers Co.; Rosslyn Center Associates; Rosslyn Center Realty Inc.: Zupnik-Rosslyn Ltd. Partnership; Twin Development Corp., 1300 N. 17th St. Associates, Theodore B. Gould and the County Board.