The D.C. Zoning Commission has passed an emergency resolution prohibiting foreign government chanceries and international agencies from locating in certain Washington neighborhoods - though the commission has not yet adopted specific zoning regulations for the restricted areas.
The action came during a zoning commission meeting Thursday evening. It arose in response to an attempt by the government of Finland to relocate its chancery, or offices, from 1900 24th St. NW to 3216 New Mexico Ave. NW.
At the request of the National Capital Planning Commission, the federal government's planning agency for the metropolitan area, the zoning commission rejected the move by the Finnish government.
Last October, NCPC adopted a plan, hailed as a "milestone," that will require foreign governments to build their offices in areas zoned for high-density residential or commercial and mixed uses.
The plan will particularly encourage foreign governments to locate their offices along major avenues - Massachusetts Avenue NW from the Naval Observatory to Union Station, 16th Street NW, in the Van Ness Chancery area and the Van Ness Uptown Center at Connecticut Avenue NW and Van Ness Street NW, and downtown Washington - rather than in low density residential neighborhoods.
Some chanceries have been making inroads into residential areas, where they are opposed by many homeowners because of the traffic and parking problems associated with office buildings. Embassies, which are the residences of ambassadors, would not be restricted from residential areas under the new plan.
The NCPC plan is now before the zoning commission. The NCPC asked the zoning commission on Dec. 8 to adopt an emergency order to carry out the plan, but the zoning commission rejected the emergency request and scheduled a hearing for Jan. 23.
The emergency resolution passed Thursday is effective for 120 days, and essentially "holds the door," according to one zoning staff member, so foreign governments cannot expand, build, or relocate their chanceries in unsuitable areas between now and the time the zoning commission adopts new zoning regulations for their locations.
Sylvan M. Marshall, the attorney for the Finnish government, said Finland has outgrown its current office space and has been trying to relocate unsuccessfully for seven years.
If the zoning commission had not passed its emergency resolution, Marshall said Finland would have been permitted under existing zoning to buy the building on New Mexico Avenue, now occupied by the Hungarian Reform Federation of America.
Marshall said that he represents several foreign governments and has contact with many others. He said that "a number of ambassadors" have complainted that the NCPC plan proposes a limited number of suitable foreign mission sites and that the proposals seem "a little stringent."
Marshall also noted that some of the sites, such as properties in Anacostia and Friendship Heights, may not attract foreign governments.
"There is not a single embassy that will move to Anacostia," Marshall told the zoning commissioners. "Not because Anacostia is undesirable, but because the primary criteria for location is access to the Department of State rapidly and effectively."
According to a recent NCPC report, Washington now has about 130 foreign missions and 17 international agencies, which employ 16,300 people. The report estimates that by 1995, there may be between 140 and 176 foreign missions and 21 international agencies in the city.
Most of the foreign missions have sought new or improved facilities and have moved since 1965, the report said, and finding suitable and adequate locations has been a "continuously growing problem."