Since 1966, Potomac residents have successfully fought extensive commercial development in their exclusive community. But their struggle to maintain the residential character of the neighborhoods could be lost within the year, if a revised design for the area is adopted by the Montgomery County Council.

The new design, drawn up by the county Park and Planning Commission, would permit a seven-acre shopping center to be built at Falls Road and Tuckerman Lane by Julian Farms Associates and would allow some major thoroughfares in the area to be widened from the existing two lanes to four lanes.

About 200 Potomac residents voiced opposition to the plan at a commission briefing held recently at Herbert Hoover Junior High.

"This has been a 10-year fight and will probably turn into a knock-down, drag-out battle before it's over, but the shopping center will not stay in the plan," said John Mengers, treasurer of the Mid-County Civic Association. The association is one of 16 citizens' groups in the Potomac-Cabin John area lobbying against the commission plan. The area is bordered by I-270 on the east and Watts Branch on the west.

Citizens said they fear the proliferation of commercial construction if the plan is adopted and land now zoned for residential use is rezoned for businesses.

In Montgomery County, land can be rezoned by two methods: by adoption ofsectional map amendments by the County Council, or by council approval of a recommendation from a zoning hearing examiner. The examiner can make such a recommendation only after a hearing where it is shown that the character of the area has changed or that a mistake was made in the original zoning.

Since 1966, the owners of the shopping center site have twice used the hearing process to have the land rezoned and were unsuccessful both times. If the council adopts the revised plan, it would pave the way for construction of the shopping center within five years, according to Lee Cunningham, commission planner.

It would also permit the widening of Seven Locks Road to four lanes north of Tuckerman Lane, the expansion of Montrose Road to Falls Road as a four-lane highway, the widening to four lanes of River Road between Seven Locks Road and Potomac Village and the expansion of Democracy Boulevard west to intersect with Kentsdale Drive. This construction could begin within six to 10 years, Cunningham said.

Although the commission recommendations for a shopping center and road expansion were based on population and highway projections showing a need for such services, citizens at the briefing bitterly disagreed.

Leon Kestenbaum, who lives near the shopping center site, opposed the plan. "They're going to put it (the shopping center) right plunk in the middle of a residential area. And if it's intended to serve the needs of those adjacent to it and these same people object to it, why is it included in the plan?"

Commission projections show the population in the Potomac-Cabin John area will increase 14.9 percent by 1996, and the number of dwelling units will increase by 47 percent. Cunningham said more homes will be needed for families with fewer members.

Reducing transportation time to shopping is also a goal of the plan, he said. But residents said it is already possible to drive no more than four to six minutes to an existing shopping center.

The planned shopping center would be 1.9 miles from Seven Locks Road and from the Cabin John shopping center at Tuckerman Lane. The new plan is part of the 1966 Potomac Travilah Master Plan for 56 miles of Montgomery County bordered on the east by I-270 and Seneca Creek on the west. That plan is now known as the Potamac subregion master plan.

A public hearing on the revised plan will be held in January or February, Cunningham said.