There are congested highways on every side of the quiet, suburban town of Cheverly, and older residents, who have watched disdisnfully as warehouses, commercial strips and decaying neighborhoods have grown on the other side of the roads, call Cheverly "an oasis."

It is an "oasis" that the citizens of Cheverly have fought for years to keep intact, through highway projects and roning hearings and busing plans. Now, as Metro prepares to bring subway service into the town, Cheverly is once again building its defenses.

Although many of the community's 7,000 residents are eagerly awaiting the convenience Metro will bring, many others are worried that its potential side effects - traffic, crime, and the simple exposure of the area to thousands of strangers - will spoil the neighborhood as they have known it.

Cheverly town officials are doing almost everything in their power to lessen the impact - and intrusion - and Metro on the town. The city has issued parking stickers to homeowners and passed new daytime parking bans, and has spent $50,000 resurfacing streets that commuters are expected to use.

Cheverly has also amnexed the Metro station and several acres around it, and has increased its police force from six to seven officers so that the area may be increasingly patrolled.

"The station will be a siphon, because it will draw people in from all around," said Mayor Robert W. O'Connor. "And what will come back from the other end, we really don't know."

The concern of O'Connor - and much of the rest of Cheverly - over new development and new people has been part of the tradition of the town since its incorporation in 1931. For years, Cheverly has struggled to remain a suburban haven, even as the inner Beltway neighborhoods around it in Prince George's County have decayed and their affluent residents have moved elsewhere.

It has been Cheverly's battles - most notably, on racial issues - that have contributed the most to its image as a suburban enclave.

In the 1950s and '60s, central Cheverly was entirely white, while the city's blacks dominated the 87 homes of Ward 4 - which was separated from the rest of Cheverly by John Hanson Highway (Rte. 50), with only two decaying bridges in between.

William Eley, Cheverly's first black councilman in the 1950s and now the president of the Ward 4 Civic Association, remembers that whites in Cheverly preferred to buy out departing homeowners rather than allow their property to be sold to blacks.

"If used to be when I drove up to the other side of Cheverly and saw a black person standing on a street corner. I knew automatically it was a domestic," Eley said. "There was once two camps - the blacks in Ward 4 and the whites on the other side."

The racial tension intensified when Price George's schools began desegregation in 1970. Cheverly rsidents gathered 1,600 signatures opposing the busing, and lanched a highly publicized suit against the plan. Seven of the eight backers of the suit lived in Cheverly.

Then, even as Metro was building the Cheverly station in 1974, the bridges between Ward 4, and central Cheverly were closed by Penn Central Railroad, their owner, on the recommendation of the county.

The bridges were badly dilapidated, and Metro soon began work to rebuild them. But in the racially explosive atmosphere of the town, the shutdown was seen by black residents as an attempt by white Cheverly to cut them off from the community.

A new bridge over Hanson Highway and the railroad was opened almost a year ago - four years after the bridges were closed, and now both blacks and whites in Cheverly are willing to agree that the reconstruction was needed.

"The two camps have dissolved now," Eley said. "Once they realized that we didn't have tails and wanted to work for what they did in the community, the atmosphere changed." Now, Eley and other Ward 4 residents say, relations are good between the two sides of Cheverly.

There counterpart in central Cheverly, who have seen their neighborhood change from 100 percent white to over 15 percent black in the last decade, agree, but only to a point.

"We try to cooperate with each other," said one prominent white Cheverly resident. "But in fact it is two communities - Cheverly and the 4th Ward. A lot of that happened because of busing. It did more harm than good."

"Racism is not openly condoned here," said Jack Wheat, the president of the Cheverly Citizens Association, "but I'd be lying through my teeth if I didn't say there was some."

Lingering bitterness over busing and Cheverly's past racial tensions seens to have contributed, in part, to the uneasiness many white residents feel about the new Metro station.

Robert W. Heffron, a antibusing leader and a present Town Council members, says that Metro "is not progress" and that "things will never be the same after (the station opens)."

He is quick to explain: "Cheverly has been a hidden oasis and this will open it up," he said. "It will change the whole life style. We are the first stop after Deanwood Avenue in the District. That's what we'll have to deal with."

But Wheat, like many others, has more simple reasons. "The perception of Metro has changed over the years and many, many people have gone against it," he said. "Metro gave us a Madison Avenue campaign, and never showed us the bad points. I don't see any improvement to the community because of it."

"I haven't been downtown half-a-dozen times in the last two year," Wheat said. "I'm satisfied to stay here in Cheverly. I love it here. And I don't want to see it disrupted."

But many other whites will use the Metro, and believe that in spite of its potential disruption to the community, the Cheverly station will help the town.

The black residents of the Ward 4, in particular, are strongly behind the new station. To many of them, the Cheverly of the past is not as hard to part with.

"The black community is overwhelmingly for the Metro, and in fact we used to be accused of being responsible for it coming here," said Eley.

"We've been a little Garden of Eden - nobody has been able to find us here," Eley said. "Now people will discover us, and we won't have our little escape anymore. That's really not a bad thing."