For nearly four years, community groups criticized Mayor Marion Barry for taking too long to finish a comprehensive land-use plan that would chart commercial and residential growth in Washington for the next 20 years.

Now, only months before Barry is expected to send a final draft of the plan to the City Council for approval, many of those groups fear the city is moving too quickly--allowing insufficient time to correct what they consider serious flaws in the complicated document.

The D.C. Citizens Planning Coalition contends that the preliminary plan is virtually useless because it does not include a map showing, block by block, how the city's new development policies would affect current zoning.

"We're about the only city in the country trying to put together a comprehensive plan without a map," said Carol Currie, chairman of the coalition. "The city's staff draft [of the plan] contains a lot of interesting information, but it does not tell neighborhoods if they are safe or not from more intense development."

Peggy Robin, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member from Ward 3, said the city's planning office "went about the problem backwards" by waiting until the last minute to confer with local groups.

"If the citizens had been consulted first, they wouldn't now have the feeling that they must bring their comments to a body with its mind essentially made up," Robin said.

Leaders of five Dupont Circle area organizations described the proposed land use plan as "vague and sometimes inconsistent"--one that "falls far short of what is needed."

"The draft plan fails to propose and map the kinds of specifics that would assure both the survival of Dupont Circle as a residential neighborhood and the preservation of its unique character, as the plan fails to provide for compatible residential development," the community leaders said in a letter to the city.

The dispute over whether to include a zoning map appears to be a major stumbling block. Community groups seeking to protect their neighborhoods from encroachment by commercial developers want protections clearly delineated on a map. City planners, who want some flexibility in dealing with developers, oppose enacting a land-use map into law.

"It would be a gross mistake for the city to have a block-by-block land-use map in the plan," said John (Skip) McKoy, director of the D.C. Planning Office. "If the map is enacted into law, then any time the economy or the environment or technology changed and you needed to change a line on the map . . . you would have to go back to the City Council to change the law."

However, Council Chairman David A. Clarke said he and his colleagues may insist that the planning office produce a land-use map before the council begins considering the plan--possibly this summer or early fall.

"There's a lot of feeling here that if they don't send a map, it's not a comprehensive plan and there's nothing to work with," Clarke said. "A bunch of goal statements is not a comprehensive plan."

McKoy said the city intends to appoint a 50-member advisory panel to try to iron out many of the concerns raised about the plan before the final version is sent to the mayor in May or June.

The city's charter requires the city to prepare a comprehensive land-use plan.

The 330-page draft plan, unveiled last October, would restrict most future commercial growth to the downtown core and designated neighborhood centers; confine most industrial construction to the New York Avenue NE corridor; and regulate land use by the city, federal government and private firms along the city's 15 miles of waterfront.

The planning office and the National Capital Planning Commission recently worked out guidelines for historic preservation that also will be included in the comprehensive plan.

Officials held a series of briefings and meetings to explain the proposal and to seek public reaction. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairman of the Housing and Economic Development Committee, said she didn't learn of a hearing in her ward until after it had been held.

The city initially gave the public three months in which to comment on the plan, but later extended the deadline by three additional months to April 8. McKoy said the new deadline was satisfactory to most groups, but that others wouldn't be satisfied "if I guaranteed we could meet to review the plan between now and doomsday."

McKoy, who recently took charge of the planning office, said he intends to take as much time as is necessary to produce a good plan. However, McKoy has come under pressure from Ivanhoe Donaldson, the new deputy mayor for economic development, to get the plan completed as soon as possible.

McKoy said that he and Donaldson were "in synch" as to when the plan would be ready for Barry's review, but Donaldson hinted that the planning office hasn't moved as quickly as he would like.

"It's probably fair to say that I have a greater sense of the calendar than they [in the planning office] do," Donaldson said.