The Montgomery County Planning Board took the first step to formulate a long-range development plan for the Westbard area at a public forum last week at Western Junior High School.

The Westbard study area consists of approximately 78 acres of land around the commercial center at Westbard Avenue and River Road, just west of Little Falls Parkway. Diverse land uses exist side by side in the area, which has 24 acres of retail commercial space, 17 acres of industrial land and seven acres of residential area.

High-rise and low density apartments, townhouses and single-family homes comprise the approximately 650 dwelling units in the study sector. Some of the homes are among the most expensive in the county.

Residents' concern that expansion of the business area might change the character of the residential neighborhoods highlighted the forum, which was held to give citizens an opportunity to express opinions about growth and change in the area.

With an attendance roster that read like a Who's Who in local government, about 200 Westbard area residents and business people crowded into the school cafeteria. About three dozen speakers discussed concerns that included:

Opposition to the extension or widening of arterial roads serving the area.

Requests for an environmental impact study to gauge the effects of air and noice pollution under any proposed plan.

Improvement in public transportation.

Criticism of the current traffic flow in and out of the Westwood shopping area.

Suggestions that public amenities, such as bike paths, parks and green space, be incorporated into the plan.

Requests for safety measures along River Road, which has no sidewalks and is "impossible" to cross.

Consideration for the plan's impact on adjacent neighborhoods.

In an effort to assure that these concerns become incorporated into the draft sector plan, numerous residents urged the planning board to allow a citizens' advisory the committee to aid the planning staff. An impromptu vote showed the crowd unanimously in favor of establishing such a committee.

Planning staff members explained that current board policy calls for a series of public forums rather than a citizens' advisory committee in developing the preliminary sector plan - an announcement that drew boos and hisses from the crowd.

PLanners' assurances that they will meet with citizens' groups before drafting their plan, which will then be discussed at public hearings, did not appease the audience.

"It's possible the leaders in Park and Planning already know what they will hear," said Brookdale Civic Association President Larry Brown, who called the board's policy arrogant. "The area is totally saturated with traffic and pollution, and we want to keep it residential and in no way overzoned."

However forum moderator John Matthews, chief of the community planning west division, called the public forum system "a more effective way to reach out to the community."

While Matthews said the advisory committee has been "reasonably effective" as the board's traditional tool, the planners discovered that "diverse viewpoints in the community don't always get heard."

Under the public forum method, planning staffers intend to meet directly with citizens through their civic organizations. "In the Potomac area we're already dealing with about 60 different organizations," Matthews said. "Logistically, we couldn't sit 60 representatives on an advisory committee. This means not everyone gets represented."

Gail Baron, project planner for the sector plan, urged any interested citizens' group to contact the planning staff to set up meetings.

The Westbard area was part of the 1970 Bethesda-Chevy Chase master plan. The sector plan will provide a detailed analysis of the area and recommend changes needed, if any.

Staffers said they hope to have the plan ready for public hearing by June 1979, with a sector plan adopted by the planning board and transmitted to the County Council by January 1980.