Last year, the City Council adopted D.C. Law 5-76, the D.C. Comprehensive Plan Act of 1984. Covering the entire city, the plan was prepared by the mayor in accordance with the 1973 Self-Government and Governmental Reoganization Act.

Previously, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) had prepared comprehensive plans for the District in 1950, 1961 and 1968. Chances are that this latest plan, like its predecessors, is unfamiliar to most Washingtonians.

The plan sets forth seven major themes or goals:

*Stabilizing neighborhoods.

*Employment and economic growth.

*Creation of a "living" downtown.

*Preserving and promoting cultural and natural amenities.

*Respecting and improving the "physical" character of D.C.

*Preserving and ensuring community "input," and

*Preserving the "historic character" of D.C.

After its thematic, who-could-argue introduction, the plan is organized into nine separate "elements" -- economic, housing, environmental protection, transportation, public facilities, urban design, preservation and historic features, downtown and human services -- with widely varying levels of detail and significant overlaps. The 10th element, land use, includes the plan's adopted land-use maps, which are rich in colors and graphic symbols.

The downtown element is the most specific as to objectives and recommendations. Downtown is defined as the area bounded by the Capitol and North Capitol Street on the east, Massachusetts Avenue on the north, 15th Street on the west, and Pennsylvania Avenue on the south. It is divided further into ten sub-areas (such as Gallery Place, Franklin Square and Chinatown) earmarked for extensive additional development.

Downtown goals include: 85,000 new jobs by the year 2000; an increase from 5.5 million to 5.7 million square feet of retail space; 35.1 million square feet of office space, from today's base of 14 million square feet; 5,400 dwelling units, compared with today's base of 1,800 units; 11,000 hotel rooms, and 900,000 square feet of "cultural" space -- museums, theaters, galleries, restaurants -- double the existing amount.

Proclaiming Gallery Place (between 7th, 9th, F and G streets NW) as the center of downtown, the plan identifies sub-areas for certain types of development: residential use in the Mount Vernon Square sub-area; offices and hotels near Union Station and offices in the Franklin Square sub-area.

Policies set for the Judiciary Square sub-area typify the level of detail in the downtown element of the plan.

*Complete office development on both sides of the square from D to G streets NW, with uniform massing and setbacks along 4th and 5th streets NW.

*Encourage residential and hotel development north of G Street NW.

*Encourage retail development along H Street NW, to allow eastward extension of Chinatown retail uses.

*Encourage renovation of the Pension Building for the National Building Museum.

*Develop design guidelines for development surrounding the square.

*Improve the design and use of the open space in the square, eliminate surface parking and upgrade landscaping.

*Retain landmark buildings.

*Emphasize the pedestrian orientation of the area, including restricting traffic on F Street NW between 4th and 5th streets NW.

*Restrict parking and service to buildings from streets fronting the square.

*Link Judiciary Square to adjacent areas of downtown by surface public transit.

*Develop streetscape standards for key streets in the Judiciary Square area, including the streets surrounding the square, and for F Street NW, H Street NW (Chinese design theme) and Massachusetts Avenue NW. And

*Support redesign of the park reservation at 5th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW with a Chinese landscape theme, providing a symbolic gateway to Chinatown from Massachusetts Avenue.

These objectives, focusing on much more than land use, are concerned with the form of the streetscape, architectural motifs, landscaping, traffic, parking, and implicit economic issues. The downtown element also addresses overlapping issues of taxation, historic preservation, recreation, public safety and zoning.

The other elements of the plan, like motherhood and apple pie, are relatively noncontroversial.

* ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. D.C. wants more industry and commerce, new capital investment, jobs, and tax revenue through the mutual efforts of private enterprise and government.

*HOUSING. This element is concerned primarily with low- and moderate-income families, including the elderly. Greater choice in housing types, costs and financing is advocated. The plan proposes to increase housing inventory through the recycling of now-vacant units and urges more new housing construction.

*ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION. Policies aim at energy conservation, clean air and water, eliminating rats, better refuse collection and -- at the City Council's suggestion -- the use of open land for urban gardens providing home-grown food.

*TRANSPORTATION. Short and sweet, the transportation element endorses completing all of the 101-mile Metrorail system. It also proposes waterfront facilities for transportation and recreation purposes, including continuous riverfront pathways.

*PUBLIC FACILITIES. Concerned with the District's own capital-improvements program, this element recommends policies for maintaining and upgrading water and sewer mains, storm sewers, bridges, roads, sewage treatment facilities, fire stations, schools and correctional facilities.

*URBAN DESIGN. This element proposes general design strategies for public urban space: streetscapes, squares and parkspace, and waterfront zones. It supports the existing height limits dating back to 1910, while advocating that "parapets, cornices and other architectural embellishments" be allowed to exceed height limits for purposes of skyline enrichment.

*PRESERVATION AND HISTORIC FEATURES. Dealing with the thorny problem of designating and maintaining historic districts and landmark buildings, this section suggests how new development should be carried out on and adjacent to historic properties. It notes that "design, height, proportion, mass, configuration, building materials, texture, color, and location . . . should complement" visually related historic features. Criteria are established for preserving the L'Enfant plan, its special streets and places.

*HUMAN SERVICES. This succinct element describes the goals and priorities related to the District's human services programs, primarily health care and income maintenance.

The Comprehensive Plan states broad policies while making sweeping generalizations and unchallenged assumptions. Plan language is characterized by extensive use of "should be," not "shall be." But legal experts suggest that "the Comprehensive Plan Act's greatest impact will be on the zoning regulations."

Legally, zoning regulations "shall not be inconsistent" with enacted plans.

Indeed, the plan urges the city government to "modify the zoning regulations of the District of Columbia as appropriate to support these urban design objectives and policies, to encourage the emergence of specialized districts, and to assist in achieving a greater diversity and mix of uses than would otherwise occur."

There are tremendous costs associated with realization of the plan. How it would all be funded, and what the priorities would be, remain to be determined. Because the plan's feasibility depends on money, along with the elimination of cumbersome procedures and obstructive regulations, it could remain little more than wishful thinking.

NEXT: The Comprehensive Plan's Land-Use Element