Residents of Reston moved one step closer to their own declaration of independence today, as a legislative panel unanimously approved a compromise that could allow the Northern Virginia community a limited form of town government.

The measure, approved by the House-Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns, would allow Reston's 37,000 residents to decide in a referendum this fall on whether to set up a town government that would have limited taxing powers and a jurisdiction that would be frozen in size.

Calling the measure a "framework for the future," Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun, Fairfax) said the legislation would allow Reston residents the "freedom of choice" they have been seeking while soothing the fears of Fairfax County officials that the 15-year-old community would siphon off valuable tax revenues.

Waddell and Del. John H. Rust (r-Fairfax) said the compromise version could ultimately grant the Reston government more powers than had been planned when county officials and Reston leaders submitted a proposal to incorporate the area as Virginia's first "chartered community."

That idea, which would have allowed Reston more limited powers, was rejected by a Senate committee earlier this session after legislators refused to create a new form of government expressly for Reston and indicated that any new local government should be formed under existing state law.

"Under the original proposal, Reston was stunted -- it had no capacity to pick up other powers," Rush said. "With this one, the county still has very firm controls but Reston can pick up more power as the county consents."

Under the compromise proposal, worked out this week in lengthy discussions between legislators, county officials and Reston leaders, Reston would have full town status and be governed by an elected mayor and council.

It would be prohibited from providing water or sewer facilities, or electricity or gas, and could collect only real estate taxes and personal property taxes unless approval for additional taxation is granted by county supervisors.

The fledgling town government would have to win the consent of the county in order to provide fire protection, libraries, public transportation and street maintenance under the plan. Fairfax County would have veto power over the town's borrowing of money, as well as land use and zoning.

Residents of Reston have complained since the community was built as a "new town" 15 years ago that they would prefer their own government to the county's huge bureaucracy. But Fairfax County officials have resisted because they fear such a move would prompt other communities in the county to seek independent status.

Although the Fairfax Board of Supervisors voted 7 to 0 this week to back the compromise, Supervisor James M. Scott (D-Providence), who helped forge the agreement, said today he remains "a little bit apprehensive" about the bill's potential for "Balkanizing" the county.

"It's not a huge problem right now," Scott said, indicating he felt the measure was substantially similar to the original chartered community plan. "But it's a town, and a town is not what we'd agreed on initially."

Waddell, Rust and Scott were all optimistic about the measure's prospects on the House floor, where it is scheduled for Monday, and in the Senate.