The District of Columbia government has won an argument over whether it can retain limited control over the building of foreign chanceries and embassies in the city by keeping control over zoning for such buildings.
The city, however, will lose effective control over where such buildings may locate when the National Capital Planning Commission, the planning agency for federal land and buildings in the Washington metropolitan area, adopts a plan designation certain parts of the city as areas where foreign missions should build.
Location of chanceries is limited now to commercial areas and high density and medium high density residential areas, designations that are made through zoning. Embassies are less restricted in where they may be located.
NCPC has proposed a plan, as part of the comprehensive plan for the city, which would concentrate foreign missions along four of the city's major avenues, Massachusetts, Connecticut, parts of Wisconsin and 16th Street. Under the Home Rule Act the city's zoning must conform to the comprehensive plan, so the city will be bound by what NCPC adopts.
What the city has retained, however, is a say-so within the boundaries set by NCPC over zoning questions such as height and density of such developments. NCPC had suggested eliminating this control too, as one alternative within the proposed plan for foreign mission sites. The other proposed alternative was to leave that power with the city.
After some opposition from citizens groups and the city government, NCPC, which includes representation by the city, decided to leave limited zoning control in the city's hands. NCPC felt it had enough control without eliminating the city's role (for instance, zoning that was so restrictive that it effectively precluded construction of a chancery within a designated site might be challenged as not conforming to the comprehensive plan), so they bowed to the opposition, said a spokesman.
The NCPC is informally meeting with community groups and others to explain its proposed embassy and chancery zone before beginning the formal process of adopting the plan.
The proposal is part of NCPC's contribution to a comprehensive plan for land use and growth in the city. NCPC determines the elements of the plan that involve federal questions, while the city's determines strictly municipal planning questions.
Officials from NCPC met last Saturday with community representatives in Northwest Washington, the area where most foreign missions are now and where they would continue to be under the NCPC proposal.
In answer to questions from the small audience, NCPC attorney Daniel Shear said that NCPC's proposal probably would rule out the location of a new French chancery complex on Reservoir Road NW across from Georgetown University Hospital but that the issue would probably end up in litigation. The area where the French want to build, part of the John D. Archbold estate near Glover Park, is outside the areas designated as sites for foreign buildings.
The French government has applied for rezoning of the site to allow construction to begin. D.C. municipal planning director Ben W. Gilbert said that his offce had recommended that the zoning commission hear the request for rezoning.
"The French were warned that after they bought the property they could not be assured they would get approval to build there," said Gilbert, who said he believed the French government was nonetheless entitled to a hearing.
The proposed complex was designed after a special competition with the architect being selected from among 55 entries.