Members of the D.C. zoning commission said yesterday they plan to restrict hotel development severely in residential areas.

The four zoning commissioners present at yesterday's meeting expressed tentative approval for the new restrictions and asked city planners to draw up final new regulations for a vote on April 10. One member was absent from yesterday's meeting.

In addition, the commission yesterday enacted a new, 120-day emergency moratorium that would prohibit the conversion or demolition of any residential property for the development or expansion of hotels until the commission takes final action.

The new moratorium will further delay the planned expansion of the Washington Hilton Hotel. That calls for the demolition of three Columbia Road NW apartment buildings.

The commissioners also asked the city planners to develop guidelines for a new special zone near downtown Washington to encourage hotel development. City planning director James O. Gibson said the new zone would be located near the site of the city's convention center, now under construction near Mount Vernon Square.

The commissioners indicated that they will allow the development of hotels in areas near downtown that contain both residential and commercial buildings as long as the owners get approval from the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment. Hotels would be allowed in all commercial zones.

The commissioners agreed that hotel operators who want to develop or expand in residential neighborhoods must request special permission from the commission for each project.

The commission's deliberations drew mixed reactions yesterday from citizen activists who had urged the adoption of strong measures protecting housing from encroachment by hotels.

A spokesman for the hotel industry called the commission's decisions hasty and unreasonable in many areas.

Robin Shuster, president of the tenants association at the Wyoming apartment building, one of three Columbia Road apartment buildings threatened with demolition by the Washington Hilton's expansion plan, said the tentative vote "was pretty much what we had expected but not what we had hoped for.

"We're disappointed they didn't prohibit it [expansion] outright." But she added that zoning commissioners seemed clearly opposed to the expansion of hotels that would demolish apartment buildings.

Ann Hughes Hargrove, an Advisory Neighborhood commissioner, in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, said that the zones with mixed uses in which hotel development still may be permitted contained many housing units. "We're pleased that the people next to the Hilton can stay at least temporarily, but the fight's not over," Hargrove said.

Hargrove said the citizens groups can only hope for the planning department to recommend that the new special hotel zone be located on blocks without apartment houses near downtown and around Union Station.

Two citizen activists said they were distressed that the commissioners seemed to be providing fewer protections against apartment-to-hotel conversions in mixed-use and commercial areas than under current zoning regulations.

John L. Barr Jr., one of the owners of the three apartment buildings next to the Hilton, said that if the hotel is prohibited from buying the properties, they simply will be sold to someone else.

Barr said the owners of the buildings want to sell them because they feel the city's rent control laws are too restrictive. But he said that tenants would be offered the first rights to buy the building under city law.

The commissioners also agreed yesterday to restrict the amount of space a hotel can devote to such things as exhibit space and activity rooms in some commercial areas and sections of the city with mixed uses.

Leonard Hickman, executive vice president of the Hotel Association of Washington, said that the commission's discussion was confusing and that it appears the members are leaning toward "a big setback for hotel development" in Washington, particularly by prohibiting hotel development in residential zones.

"That's the most reasonably priced land in the city, and now that's gone," Hickman said. Rather than trying to get approval from the Board of Zoning Adjustment in other sections of the city, hotels will simply locate in the suburbs, Hickman said.

The issue of where the city's hotels should be allowed has been one of the most controversial the zoning commission has ever considered.

Hotels are now permitted primarily in areas with a mixture of commercial and residential buildings. Before the moratorium, they also were allowed in some of the city's residential zones that have apartment buildings.

Under current zoning, hotels are permitted on less than 8 percent of the District's land, Hickman said. As Washington has become more of an international cultural capital, the city should be encouraging hotel growth, hotel owners say.

In addition, with the convention center scheduled to be built by 1983, the hotel industry estimates that 6,000 to 8,000 more hotel rooms could be needed by 1985 to handle the expected increase in tourist and business trade.

Hotel development creates new jobs amd more tax revenue for the city, industry representatives say. They contend that hotels are basically residential.

Not so, argued a large group of local citizens groups called the Citizens Planning Coalition and some city Council members. They said hotels threaten the fabric of the city's residential areas, and urged commissioners to permit large hotels near downtown and small hotels without convention facilities where surrounding residents want and need them.

The coalition also wanted strong provisions prohibiting the kind of apartment-to-hotel conversions that have mushroomed in such communities as Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle. The city's planning department also had recommended that such conversions be limited in most of the city.

The final zoning commission decision will be referred to the National Capital Planning Commission for its comments on federal impact. The zoning commission then will take final action.