Brushing aside objections from the State Department, a committee of the D.C. City Council approved legislation yesterday that would prohibit any more foreign chanceries in residential neighborhoods of Washington.
The unanimous vote by the housing and urban development committee put the council onto a collision course with the D.C. Zoning Commission, which is scheduled to act today on a proposed regulations that would permit - but not assure - chanceries in some residential areas.
Chanceries are embassy offices, as distinct from embassies, which are the ambassador's residences. The right to put embassies in residential zones is not in question.
Residents along residentially zoned Massachusetts Avenue NW west of Dupont Circle, the city's traditional Embassy Row, have protested proposals to allow more chanceries. So have residents of neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park.
In response to the protests, council members Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3) and Marion Barry (D-At Large) introduced a bill that would prohibit any more chanceries in residential zones, including Massachusetts Avenue.
The council proposal proviked a sharp objection from the State Department, which has contended that the city's resistance is having international repercussions.
One of the countries currently seeking to move onto Massachusetts Avenue is Saudi Arabia, a major supplier of oil and often an American diplomatic ally in the Middle East.
Linda Shenwick, representing the State Department legal office, urged the committee yesterday to reject the restrictive bill and leave the matter up to the Zoning Commission and the National Capital Planning Commission.
"The actions of this council necessarily can affect the degree to which (foreign) governments may meet their commitments to the United States" in providing suitable American embassy and chancery sites, she said.
District of Columbia rules, she added, have often restricted chanceries to areas that are unsuitable or too expensive for developing countries.
Accompanying Shenwick, and also urging the council to defer to the Zoning Commission, was Whayne S. Quin, a lawyer who said he serves as an adviser to the State Department on zoning matters. Quin frequently represents developers before the Zoning Commission and the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment.
Shackleton told the committee that Quin, a member of the firm of Wilkes and Artis, is one of the city's most active zoning lawyers.
The State Department plea clearly had a reverse effect upon the committee members.
"I think that the statement is very adequate for me to do what I ought to do," said William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5), calling for the bill's approval within moments after Quinn stopped speaking.
"I think it has persuaded me also," said Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), the committee chairwomen, who said the council's chief responsibility is to D.C. residents. "That statement really forced me to vote quickly," she said.
Before approving the bill unanimously, the committee adopted an amendment by David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) designed to tighten its provisions. The amendment would prohibit rezoning any current residential area in a way that ever would permit chanceries to be established.
If both the council and the Zoning Commission proposals are adopted, the result would be a legal collision testing the powers of the two bodies.
Under the 1975 home rule charter, the council is the city's principal law-making body. The Zoning Commission is an independent body with nearly complete power over land use.
Already the city's acting corporation counsel, Louis P. Robbins, who is part of the executive branch of the city government and the chief legal adviser to the Zoning Commission, has issued an informal opinion that "the proposed (legislation) is beyond the power of the counci." Edward B. Webb Jr., the council's own top lawyer, has voiced an opposite conclusion.
The Zoning Commission proposal, up for consideration today, would permit chanceries in a few residential areas, notably on Embassy Row, suject to a review by the Board of Zoning Adjustments.