The families who live in Aurora Heights in Arlington County have a simple plea - to return their neighborhood to what it was before the advent of Crystal City and all those cars.

"When we first moved here, it was so nice and quiet, and a heck of a lot cleaner, believe me," said Alice Caito, a resident who has worked to ban commuter parking from their streets.

Then, around the edges, piles of concrete started going up for offices for government workers. Bit by bit the neighborhood changed. Where once the sound of birds roused people from their sleep, the sound of churning motors did - until the neighbors hit on what they thought was a solution.

A parking permit plan adopted by Arlington County allowed residents and their guests to park in front of the homes in Aurora Heights while prohibiting commuters. For awhile it worked.

"It was a quiet residential neighborhood that stayed reasonably clean. It was the neigborhood we had all bought homes in," said Donna Jensen of 602 South 19th St.

But the respite was only temporary.

The commuters struck back. Intent upon their own problems, they sued. Court case followed court case with the commuters winning most of the rounds, even in the Virginia Supreme Court. The state's highest court found the ordinance that allowed for the residential parking permit plan unconstitutional, holding that it unlawfully created two separate classes of parkers.

Since then the residents of Aurora Heights, with the help of the county, devised other plans for dealing with the commuter parking problems. Complicated parking regulations govern some streets, with parking prohibited on one side from 11 a.m. to noon and prohibited on the other from noon to 1 p.m. Although such strategies have discouraged commuters from parking all day, residents also have been ticketed for leaving a car too long on the streetL

The problem started, according to residents and commuters, with the construction of Crystal City, a monochromatic complex of office buildings and hotels alonside U.S. Route 1. As government workers began to fill the offices, their cars began to fill nearby residential streets.

"When the office buildings started going in, we started having to fight for a place to unload groceries," said Jensen. Friends who came to visit in mid-day might have to walk for blocks, she said, recalling one visit.

"A friend from out of town stopped and unloaded her baby and a playpen, handing the baby to me, a stranger. I held the screaming baby for about 10 minutes, while the mother parked and walked to the house," she said.

Like other residents of the neighborhood, the Jensens didn't always have a driveway. When they moved into their home, with plenty of parking space available on the street, there was no need. When the commuters began to absorb the available space, they built a driveway to accommodate their car and the cars their children bought.

"We had a driveway put in for $5,000," said Caito. Even that didn't solve her problems, she said. "They would block the driveway so we couldn't get out. We'd ask the men if they would move their cars, but they'd just ignore us. That meant going up on the next door neighbor's lawn to get out."

Commuters' cars meant bother, noise and gasoline fumes, Caito said. Some drivers, killing time waiting for friends to join them for the ride home, would dump ashtrays or clean out their cars and leave the debris on residents' lawns, said residents.

Another complaint was that the cars blocked the county from providing services such as picking up piles of leaves left at the curb in the fall. But in addition to the physical difficulties, there were problems of attitude, residents said.

"Some of these men were really rude," said Caito. "They'd cut across property. They're grown men. You can expect children to do that but not adults," she said.

"It was just a sad day for Arlington County when they allowed Crystal City to be built without adequate parking," said Caito. "My husband pays $56 a month downtown to park. He says if he wants the convenience of using the car, he has to pay for it."