TIDE CHARTS for the Potomac don't show it, but every old sailor or beachcomber along Georgetown's grubbier shores can tell you that, once every third full moon or so, there washes up another waterlogged load of paper work in the celebrated and apparently endless Matter of the Great Waterfront Development Plan. Right now, intrepid scavengers are preparing to poke through the record of yet another round of public hearings that ended last week with not immediate resolution on the horizon.

At this point, the main question -- whether to allow an attractive parkland and commercial-residential project to replace the rubble and decadence on the site today -- is sidetracked pending a decision as to whether the plan is compatible with the historic character of this area. Charter members of Georgetown's wistful-vista set continue to talk about preserving their view -- which is mostly of a dilapidated freeway -- while characterizing the proposed project as a some kind of high-rise monster that will sink the whole tract come the next flood.

As designed and refined for at least half a dozen other hearings and rehearings over the years, the waterfront plan would do nothing of the sort. In fact, it would preserve green parkland in abundance -- while providing attractive retaililng and residential space. Not only would it offer suitable recreational facilities, but the development would also yield tax revenues; and though revenues shouldn't be the motivation or justification for proceeding, they do become a consideration in an area already ringed by large and beautiful parks.

At least last week the city government did go on record recommending that a building permit be granted. But the immediate decision, on the compatability question, isn't due until September or so. After that, presumably, the all-or-nothing, stop-the-plan faction will seek help in the courts to preserve the blight.

May it not please the court.