WHEN PEOPLE HOPPED off their bar stools to protest the planned shutdown of the Benbow Inn off Dupont Circle recently, it wasn't merely an isolated case of nostalgic neighborhood tipplers standing up for sentimetnality's sake. In this area, soning fights have been a way of life for everyone. It all goes back about seven years, when some earnest residents of the North Dupont Circle neighborhood began generating support for the development of a citizen-produced rezoning plan for their whole area. In time, they worked out quite an impressive plan, which they submitted in June 1975 to the D.C. Zoning Commission. Before we go any further, perhaps you can just guess where that plan is. . .

Time's up-and if you guessed the zoning commission, where time should have been up long ago, perhaps you can tell the residents when to expect some decision. They care a great deal about it, sinc this plan has sought to preserve the character of their neighborhood while allowing for the necessary stimulus of commercial change. The idea is to protect the area's small business, limit high-rise development in some reasonable fashion, control traffic and parking and, at least to some extent, guard against the demolition of historically interesting buildings.

The coalition of neighborhood organizations advancing these proposals is not simply holding out against all commercial development or any higher density. In certain sections of the land, in fact, the plan does call for higher buildings. In all, about 2,100 pieces of property would be affected, in an area bounded by 15th Street on the east, M Street on the South, 23rd Street on the west and Florida Avenue on the north.

There are always official reasons for delays, of course. Back in the spring of 1977, the zoning commission finally agreed to give the plan a public hearing, but not until-would you believe-"sometime after Dec. 31." That was to allow the city's municipal planning office time to gather some data. Since then, hearings have been held and some zoning-category redefinitions have been tentatively adopted, but the rest is yet to come. The next meeting is set for January. It is not that everything the citizens proposed is perfect; the area is large, and such a rezoning is complex. But without a decision, there can be no orderly development. That's why this had better be the last "Dec. 31" that passes without a decision.