The French government has asked the D.C. Zoning Commission for preliminary approval of its plans for an elegant chancery complex on Reservoir Road NW across from Georgetown University Hospital.
It has applied at the same time for necessary rezoning of the site, eight acres of meadowland bought from John D. Archbold in 1973. Archbold still owns the remaining 32.2 acres of his family's Hillandale estate.
The chancery site appears to conflict with a recent National Capital Planning Commission staff proposal for encouraging location of foreign chanceries and missions along certain major arteries instead of an residential areas.
City planning officials are also concerned about the French chancery's potential impact on Reservoir Road traffic, already a problem at certain hours. The D.C. Transportation Department is studying this aspect.
But the French government and its Washington lawyer in the case, Philip Amram, contend the site is idea for the chancery and the chancery will benefit the neighborhood. Traffic problems, they added in a memorandum to the city zoning panel, should be all but nonexistent.
The proposed complex was designed by Andre Remondet, who submitted one of 55 entries in a special competition for the project.
Remondet's design, subject to revision, calls for four main structures: the chancery itself containing the principal embassy offices; a second building for cultural and scientific services; a third containing reception, exhibition and lecture halls, meeting rooms, cafeteria and restaurant; and a fourth for the consulate and commercial and financial services. They may be built one at a time.
Also planned a swimming pool, tennis courts, an "outdoor reception area," a concierge's residence and extensive landscaping.
Of more immediate interest to nearby resident, the tentative plans call for a total of 617 off-street parking spaces - all underground. Maximum height of the buildings will be only 40 feet.
As for traffic, the French government estimated that by the time the complex is built, 1980 at the earliest as many as 300 employee vehicles may be coming and going daily. In addition, visitors arriving by car may total 200 in the course of an average day.
But the French government told the zoning commission in its memorandum that commuting employees would be arriving and departing just after rather than during, the current peak traffic hours on Reservoir Road. French foreign service working hours are generally from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., it explained, while Reservoir Road traffic peaks between 8 and 9 a.m. and again between 5 and 6 p.m.
The memorandum added, "There are, and always will be, at irregular intervals, official receptions, cocktail parties, lectures and visiting groups which will generate short-term bursts of automobile traffic.
But in another move to ease traffic concerns, it mentioned the possibility of adding an extra lane along the north side of Reservoir Road near the proposed complex's driveway to reduce any congestion.
The French government stated that construction of the new complex would allow its embassy to consolidate operations that currently involve nearly 300 employees scattered among 11 locations in Washington. The complex would also provide space for some of the 93 employees currently in New York City.
The French government acknowledged that acquisition of the eight-acre Archbold tract and its use for the chancery complex would remove the property from the city tax rolls. In past years, the entire Archbold estate ranked as the most valuable piece of residential property in the District with an assessed value of $1.4 million.
But offsetting the city's tax-revenue loss here, the French government added, was potential new revenue from three currently exempt buildings it would sell when the new complex is completed: at 2535 Belmont Rd. NW. 2129 Wyoming Ave. NW and 2164 Florida Ave. NW.
The memorandum to the Zoning Commission said the French government's interest went beyond practical considerations. France wanted its new chancery complex to be "an architectural ornament to the city" and to serve in "a broad effort to maintain to a maximum the few remaining privately owned large green spaces in Washington."