The District of Columbia zoning commission has approved emergency regulations that clear the way for at least three foreign governments to proceed with plans for new chanceries or expansion of existing offices.
Foreign governments that wanted to move or expand their offices in Washington had been left in limbo for the last six months, while federal and local officials tried to work out an agreement on regulations needed to implement the new Foreign Missions Act, which changes some of the requirements governing expansion or relocation of embassies.
The commission approved the emergency regulations Monday night, after hearing State Department officials and attorneys for the Japanese and Saudi Arabian governments testify that quick action on some regulations was urgently needed.
Kyochi Komachi, first secretary of the Japanese embassy, pleaded for swift action before the funds his government has appropriated disappear July 31, the end of Tokyo's fiscal year. The Japanese want to expand their overcrowded chancery on Massachusetts Avenue NW and add 250 underground parking spaces, Komachi said.
The decision, which went into effect immediately, clears the way for that effort and for a chancery renovation planned by the Portuguese at 2125 Kalorama Rd. NW. It also allows Saudi Arabia to proceed with its planned purchase of the five-story Peoples Life Insurance Co. building near the Watergate.
James Wood, of the State Department's foreign missions office, said yesterday that he has heard "informally" from "two or three governments" that may now apply for some kind of property permits. He would not name the governments.
The emergency rules will remain in effect for 120 days. They widen the residential areas where foreign governments are permitted to build or buy property or expand existing chanceries, subject to disapproval by the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment. Chanceries will continue to be prohibited in other low-density residential areas, but offices already in those areas will be allowed to expand.
Proposals for permanent rules changes, which will not necessarily be the same as those in the emergency regulations, are scheduled to be discussed at the zoning commission meeting Monday.
The Foreign Missions Act requires foreign governments to get permission from the State Department to buy, sell, rent or expand property in the United States. The purpose is to give the United States leverage in demanding better treatment of U.S. diplomats abroad, and governments having close ties to this country can be expected to get approvals routinely, a State Department spokesman said.