A coalition of citizen groups lost its bid last night to impose a stopgap downzoning of land in the Dupont Circle area to win time in its battle against continued high-rise development.

The D.C. Zoning Commission voted 3 to 0 to reject the downzoning proposal drawn up in 1974 and advanced last year by a group calling itself the Dupont Circle Coalition.

The coalition has asked the city to replace the existing, relatively unrestricted commercial zoning north of Dupont Circle, stretching to Florida Avenue, with a new zoning category designed to maintain the pattern of low-rise buildings erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The proposal also would divide the present "special purpose" zoning along 20th Street, Massachusett Avenue and 16th Street NW into two subcategories designed to retain the older buildings.

Walter B. Lewis, who was elected chairman of the Zoning Commission yesterday, said that body would consider the citizen proposals at hearings scheduled to begin July 24.

After yesterday's vote, Lewis said, "No one need think there is any victory here (in the negative vote) - there is a lot of work to be done."

Coalition members voiced dismay at the decision. "They've shirked their responsibility," asserted Margaret Cameron Tessier, chairman of the North Dupont Community Association, one of seven organizations that form the coalition.

The decision followed a 90-minute presentation by supporters of the downzoning proposal, most of them homeowners, and by opponents, most of them commercial developers.

Susan Meehan, an area resident and member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commision, said the Dupont Circle area - once noted for its charming town houses and tree-lined streets - is being turned into just another commercial area. A total of 16 children on her block have moved away as the developers took over, she said.

Norman Glasgow, who is probably Washington's most active zoning lawyer, said the issue before the commission yesterday was simply whether an emergency exists that threatens the area. He insisted there was no emergency.

Citizens seeking the downzoning won some high-powered political support, but to no avail. Testimony and letters supporting their case was presented by City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker and Council members Marion Barry (D-at-large), Douglas E. Moore (D-at-large) and John A. Wilson (D-two).

Commission members, discussing the issue before their vote, agreed that the old neigborhood was eroding, but there was no emergency situation.

Lewis acknowledged that the commission was faced with the problem because it had not acted fast enough when considering similar issues earlier.

As chairman, Lewis replaced Theodore F. Mariani, as architect from the Dupont Circle area, whose one-year chairman's term expired. Mariani did not take part in the downzoning case.