SEVEN YEARS and countless blueprints ago, some earnest residents of the North Dupont Circle neighborhood started drumming up support for a proposal to preserve the residential character of their area while allowing for the necessary stimulus of commercial change that a subway station and other changes might reasonably attract. The idea was to protect the area's small businesses in this lively center of town-those pleasant shops, restaurants and galleries near the circle-and to limit high-rise development in some reasonable fashion, control traffic and parking, and guard against the demolition of historically interesting buildings. So these citizens worked out an impressive plan, which they submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission in June 1975.

Not until the spring of 1977 did the zoning commission finally agree to give the plan a public hearing-and then not until "sometime after Dec. 31." We'll spare you the details of what didn't happen after that. Last week, the commissioners finally acted-but only on one part of the proposal, sidestepping the most important question of what Connecticut Avenue should look like north of the circle.

The commissioners did accept zoning changes limiting the heights of new buildings along several streets. But after much quibbling, they removed the Connecticut Avenue decision from the case and said it would be considered later. The claim now is that some new zoning category still is needed for the avenue, one that might involve lowering certain height limits but would encourage commercial rather than residential uses.

After all these years, is that the most the commissioners can come up with? If it takes a new zoning category, let's have one. Emergency measures should be taken to keep the avenue the way it is until the commissioners can get their act together, for this strip is a prime target for commercial development. The citizens organizations are not simply holding out against all commercial development, they recognize the wisdom of development at subway stations. But without a firm city zoning policy, there can be no orderly development-and the charm of a downtown neighborhood remains in jeopardy.