Over objections from the State Department, the D.C. Zoning Commission formally adopted a new regulation yesterday that gives ultimate power to the city government to prohibit new diplomatic chanceries in residentially zoned areas.
The commission's action did not go as far as some homeowners wanted in prohibiting all new chanceries - as embassy offices are called - from residential zones.
But it rejected efforts by the State Department and the National Capital Planning Commission to give foreign governments a legal right to locate in some such areas, including Embassy Row west of Dupont Circle.
After yesterday's action, Harold Burman, a State Department lawyer, told a reporter that problems encountered by foreign governments in locating chanceries in Washington are creating problems for U.S. diplomacy, including the finding of embassy sites in foreign capitals.
He said the zoning commission decision "has the potential for a community dispute every time a chancery is proposed" in Washington.
Yesterday's commission action, taken by a vote of 4 to 0, has the force of law. However, the D.C. City Council has scheduled preliminary action Tuesday on proposed legislation that would go beyond the zoning commission position and bar new chanceries from residential areas.
The new zoning commission rule requires that plans for any new chanceries in specified areas be given a rigorous review by the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment. If the plans to not meet city standards on such matters as landscaping, noise control and off-street parking, BZA would have the right to reject a chancery proposal.
The State Department, backed by NCPC, wanted to turn the process around, giving foreign governments the right to locate in affected areas. BZA would be given power to set reasonable standards, but no authority to block the facilities outright.
Part of the argument is over what constitutes a residential zone.
Protesting homeowners contend they are all areas zoned by the city for residential purposes, including such areas as Embassy Row where chanceries occupy old mansions. They want chanceries restricted to commercial zones.
NCPC contended, however, that such areas as Embassy Row are really more "mixed" than "residential," and that it makes sense to locate chanceries there.
In addition to Massachusetts Avenue and adjacent areas west of Dupont Circle, the dispute affects a residentially zoned area of 16th Street between Q Street and Columbia Road NW.