About 300 commuters who have been barred by Arlington officials from parking on a dirt lot at Metro's Pentagon City station began a search yesterday to find parking spaces anywhere nearby until county officials catch up with them.

"It's like trying to catch a rabbit in a cornfield, Acting County Manager William L. Hughes said of the county's efforts to keep commuters from parking near the station.

Since they can no longer park in their favorite spot - the dirt lot - the commuters began parking in every other place they could find where "No Parking" signs do not exist.

Among other spots, they parked in a nearby construction zone where a new street is being built, in a gravel and rain-rutted lot across the street from the banned dirt area and on road shoulders extending into the neighborhoods that are trying to keep them out.

County officials have said that residents in the neighborhood complained that the commuters bring more traffic and pollution to the area.

"They talk about environmental impact! Look what people are doing here," said one commuter, H. Earl Holland, who was parked nearly bumper-to-bumper on a gravel shoulder near the old lot. "They're going to chase us right over there in residential parking and people are going to say, 'Hey, I can't get in my driveway because commuters are parking here."

Hughes said two cars were given warning tickets for improper parking yesterday and the county "will go easy" on ticketing for about a week until commuters find other places to park. Hughes said he did not know what the county's next step will be, but a logical one would be to erect "no parking" signs along the shoulders and vacant lots to keep them out.

"We solve one problem and create another," Hughes said. "If we put up enough signs we'd cure it all."

Holland said he will continue to park on the shoulder or any other place "until they make me stop." He said if he took the bus to the Metro station he would have to transfer buses twice and get up an hour earlier.

As many as 800 commuters a day parked on the now-banned dirt and weed lot. But a ditch has been dug around part of it now to prevent cars from entering. The lot is located just across Interstate Rte. 395 south of the Pentagon. Commuters have parked there since Metro service was started in Virginia on July 1.

A public hearing was held prior to the County Board's 3-to-2 decision last month refusing to grant a special use permit to build a temporary parking lot there. A few residents near the station complained about the lot at the meeting, according to board chairman Joseph S. Wholey. No one spoke in favor of it, Wholey said.

"I feel incredible frustration at an incompetent local government decision," said Larry E. Christensen, who drives about nine blocks from his home to the station in the morning. "Everyone I talked to who rides the subway never had actual notice of the meeting. There are no land owners near the site who could possibly complain."

A Western Electric Co. plant is across the street from the lot. An I-395 interchange borders another side and the River House apartment complex lies about two blocks away. Most of the area surrounding the Metro station is comprised of weeds, street construction and warehouse-type buildings.

"These people (board members) do very few things that affect our daily lives," Christensen continued. "They had one opportunity to affect my daily life and it seems to me they bungled it."