Thursday, May 15, 2014

Could Federal Aviation Administration-imposed height caps stunt growth in Arlington?

Low-flying planes are a common sight in parts of Arlington County, including Rosslyn and Crystal City, but could their flight paths lead a new cap on the area's planned skyscrapers?

Federal lawmakers and county officials alike are keeping a close eye on a possible Federal Aviation Administration policy change that could lower building heights in heavily congested areas near Reagan National Airport. The long-studied proposal, known as One Engine Inoperative because its goal is to minimize hazards if a plane's engine fails during takeoff, was advertised on April 28. The FAA is seeking comments through June 27.

Alex Iams, acting deputy director of Arlington Economic Development, says he hopes airports will retain the discretion to determine how development projects should proceed in their own backyards. He said the county has long enjoyed a working relationship with the FAA, Reagan National and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and that each organization understands the need to balance airport safety with economic development.

Iams said the county worked closely with the FAA and MWAA on its long-range plan for Crystal City, including how a potential change to the OEI would factor in, and said he does not believe the change would alter planned developments in the area. The long-range plan allows for taller buildings than the county has allowed previously, and at least one building already has been redeveloped with additional floors.

The FAA does not have the authority to dictate specific building heights around airports or reject proposed projects beyond a certain height but it can determine that a building or object poses a hazard if it is in the flight line of an airplane taking off from a runway. The declaration is something local governments would have to take into account when considering the approval of new developments. The FAA also notes in its advertisement of the policy change that private insurers may be reluctant to permit construction of those projects if the FAA has issued a hazard notice.

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