A group of District residents filed suit against the city and Mayor Marion Barry this week in an attempt to limit the size of the office building being constructed on the site of the former Rhodes Tavern.
Carol Currie, Kathryn A. Eckles and Anne Sellin filed a complaint in U.S. District Court here Monday, claiming that the city "illegally" amended the city's schedule of heights and issued building permits to allow the Oliver T. Carr Co. to increase the size of the soon-to-be-built second phase of Metropolitan Square from 95 feet to 130 feet plus an allowance for equipment, such as elevator machinery. They want the court to force Carr to remove the top part of the existing building and to limit the second phase to 95 feet.
Carr's development on the block bounded by 14th and 15th streets and F and G streets NW has been hounded by legal tangles since preservationists took to the barricades to try to save Rhodes Tavern, an early-Washington meeting house, more than five years ago. They ultimately lost and that building was razed in September.
The Secret Service also questioned the height of the first phase of Metropolitan Square, built several years ago on the northeast corner of the block, claiming that the unobstructed view of the White House from the top offices presented a security risk. The Secret Service says it has since resolved the security risk presented by both phases of the project through agreements with Carr .
Currie, Eckles and Sellin claim, however, that actions by the city have resulted in imminent injury to their "aesthetic, environmental, recreational, educational and financial interests in the White House precinct and public buildings adjacent to Metropolitan Square."
"Metropolitan Square overwhelms the buildings within the White House precinct, contrary to the intention of the schedule of heights," states the suit. "As a consequence of the already constructed excessive height of phase one, the Secret Service has had to increase security for the president. The increased security results in a financial cost to plaintiffs as taxpayers."
The suit also claims that because of the security risk posed by Metropolitan Square, the president no longer greets foreign diplomats and heads of state at the White House north entrance.
"This time-honored tradition has been discontinued solely due to the height of the Metropolitan Square phase one building," says the suit. "Plaintiffs have an educational and aesthetic interest in the continuation of this time-honored tradition."
Representatives of the Carr company said they had not seen the suit and would not have a comment until they had had an opportunity to review it. Sources familiar with D.C. zoning law said it was possible the case would be dismissed on the basis that complaints about increased height allowances would have to be taken up, initially at least, by the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment rather than the court.
Greta C. Van Susteren, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said that she believes the issue of whether the city and mayor illegally amended the schedule of heights to increase the height limitation on the Carr site is an issue for the courts to decide. She said the city would have to reply to the complaint within 20 days and that at that time she planned to ask the court to make a summary judgment.