The path between conception and construction is often tortuous for office and commercial building developers here - particularly when their sites are in historic neighborhoods or other areas the federal government is concerned about.

The review process - as the proposal wends its way from zoning clearance to building permit to architectural approval - has grown over the years to accomodate a burgeoning public interest in what gets built.

Occasionally, the federal government steps in to try to quash the plans that result from this process. Earlier this year, for instance, the Interior Department mounted an unsuccessful court challenge of several 29-storey buildings that were already under roof in Rosslyn - the Arlington County gateway to the Nation's Capital - as sdpoilers of the Washington skyline.

The case for design review, which can involve more than half a dozen government offices in a single building proposal, is supported generally by Colden Florance, president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He contends that reviews serve a good purpose in public precints, landmark and historic districts of major significance and in neighborhoods where residents want them.

What bothers Florance, however, are what he calls the "potential hazards of the complexities in administration, possibly hurried criticism and shifting of ground rules." He says the review process poses its principal threat when it is used to discourage growth, where local governments create "unreasonable delays" by adding overlapping levels of authorities that must rule on development plans.

Florance said he is also concerned about recognition of property rights, the need for profesionally qualified persons to serve on the boards and the use of the process only in the most appropriate situations, such as areas of unquestioned historic significance.

As the elected spokesman for about 600 Washington-area architects, a third of whom work for the government, Florance maintains that most of them want design review to reflect a legitimate public interest. Architects want these reviews to be conducted under clearly defined procedures, requirements and criteria, he contends.

Florance is a partner in Keyes, Condon & Florance here and a former chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade's task force on zoning.

In addition to the District's zoning commission and its board of zoning appeals, the review process in the city encompasses the Commission of Fine Arts, which has been preserving the federal interest in non-federal projects for 69 years; the District's new historic review board, formerly the Joint Committee on Landmarks; the Pennsylvania Avenue Redevelopment Corp., which concerns itself with rebuilding and preservation along that ceremonial corridor; the National Capital Planning Commission; the Interior Development (in regard to historic landmarks); the General Services Administration and the Architect of the Capitol.

When it comes to the rejuvenation of Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol, Florance says the federally chartered corporation in charge of that redevelopment has been working with the various review agencies but now must work more closely with the historic review board.

How is design review seen by a private developer with two Pennsylvania Avenue corridor projects? Robert Gladstone, whose Quadrangle Development Corp. is working in the block bounded by 13th, 14th, F and E streets NW, said: "Design review always involves a number of hurdles in terms of time and steps for the developer that are offset by the value of public interest in the project."

He said he is encouraged by Mayor Marion Barry's announced intention to have the District's Planning Commission act as the single registration agency for private developers planning to build in the city. Up until now, developers and architects have had to move projects from review agency to agency.

On a philosophical basis, however, Florance said that there is concern among architects that increasing design review in varied areas might tend to have a "leveling effect" that could discourage or stymie innovative architectural approaches and new ideas or materials. "If there is considerable overlapping of jurisdictional review, an architect could get mixed signals that would be self-defeating," he said.

For instance, towering twin pylons were suggested for the plaza south of the National Theater by an architect commissioned by the Pennsylvania Avenue corporation but the idea was rejected. Florance says the corporation board's rejection of that idea might have been averted if the design had been reducted to a smaller scale. There could have been some flexibility and compromise in the commission's dealings with the architect, Venturi and Rauch of Philadelphia, Florance said. CAPTION: Picture, Colden Florence sees a need for flexibility on the Pennsylvania Avenue design. By Margaret Thomas - The Washington Post