ONCE UPON AN unconscionably long time ago, a number of concerned residents in the North Dupont Circle are set out in earnest to see how well the city's planning and zoning procedures might work. They began by generating support for the development of a citizen-produced plan for their whole neighborhood. After about three years, this blossomed into a comprehensive plan to preserve the neighborhood's character while allowing for the stimulus of some orderly commercial evolution. The idea was to protect the small business in the area, limit high-rise development, control traffic and parking and, whenever possible, guard against the demolition of historically interesting buildings.

The plan seemed to be pretty popular, for it attracted support from the North Dupont Community Organization and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, as well as teh Advisory Neighborhood Commission for the area. So then a good two years ago, the citizens submitted their plan to the D.C. Zoning Commission.

So far, so good. But just wait, for that's what those citizens have been doing ever since. The commission still hasn't held a public hearing on the plan - hasn't even set a date. The only answer has been that there will be a hearing "sometime after Dec. 31," which really narrows it down for you. This response is consistent, though - for it's exactly the reply given to us when we last wrote about this matter seven months ago.

Meanwhile, as you may imagine, buildings are going down and others are rising all around the Dupont area, with no useful hints or guidelines about what the future may bring in the way of zoning changes. Even would-be developers are frustrated, for they, too, see opportunities that cannot be seized until some definite zoning decisions are made.

Moreover, as we noted last time, this isn't a matter of the government's having to bear the burden of proof; the citizens have reversed that process here. And they're not just seeking "downzoning," or zoning classifications that would result in an across-the-board reduction in possible development levels. In certain areas, in fact, the plan calls for higher zoning categories.

So without necessarily embracing every last detail of the proposal, the city government's planners and zoners nevertheless should be welcoming this kind of constructive citizen effort. Instead, inexcusably, the commission members still dragging their heels while the entire neighborhood suffers in limbo. If the zoning commission members aren't prepared to carry out their responsibilitiees, they should be replaced. Otherwise, they should set hearing dates with provisions for enough time to hear all witnesses and get on with a decision.