For years Virginia has accorded Reston all the recognition that the United States used to grant Communist China: It showed up on the maps, but was not formally acknowledged as worthy of its own government.

Today, 15 years after the community of 37,000 was created, an effort to formally recognize the "new town" in the Washington suburbs got under way in the General Assembly.

Northern Virginians appealed to a state Senate committee to approve legislation allowing the community to elect its own mayor and council, levy property taxes, run a transit system and manage public parks, among other things.

But the status-seeking Restonians ran into the state Senate's conservative patriarch, Edward E. Willey (D-Richmond), who proved about as flexiable on "the Reston question" as Chiang Kai-shek was on communism. "It sounds like a Chinese puzzle to me," groused Willey when told that Northern Virginians want Reston to be known as the state's first "chartered community."

That, the legislators were told, would give Reston something between the status of a town and a sanitary district.

Well, why not make Reston a sanitary district, one legislator asked.

"Who wants to say they're the mayor of a sanitary district?" answered Fairfax Supervisor Martha Pennino, who represents Reston on the county board. She was one of a number of witnesses urging the committee to endorse the county-approved plan for a limited form of self-government for Reston.

Members of the Senate's Local Government Committee, however, voiced resistance to creating an entirely new form of government for densely populated communities in urban areas. Under the proposal, developed by the Fairfax supervisors and the Reston Community Association, Reston would perform many of the duties now allowed to other governmental bodies.

"It just bothers me that you're always coming up with something special up there [in Northern Virginia], and what we've already got isn't good enough for the other parts of the state," Willey complained. The 69-year-old Willey, who has reemerged as a major force in state government, told the Reston representatives, "I'm not trying to be ornery or some of those things I'm often accused of, but somebody down here has to put the brakes on."

After a hearing during which several legislators questioned the constitutionality of the Reston plan, the committee shipped the proposal off to a five-member subcommittee. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun, Fairfax), said he feared the measure could remain there for a year.

"It's my feeling that there's considerable doubt as to what the residents of Reston want to do on this issue," said Waddell.He said that he is considering asking for a referendum to determine whether the area's citizens would rather see no change in their government, move toward becoming a town or incorporate as a "chartered community."

Waddell said his correspondence and telephone calls on the issue have been running strongly against any change. He said the proposal for a "chartered community" offered Reston powers that are substantially similar to those currently held by state sanitary districts, agencies which run sewage treatment plants. "They just tried to come up with a fancy new name," Waddell said.

Talk of community government in Reston has surfaced repeatedly since it was formed as a "new town" in the mid-1960's. The area is currently governed as a part of Fairfax County. Its schools, police and fire protection, refuse collection and other services are provided by the county.

Under the Waddell plan, Reston would be governed by an elected mayor and six-member council, and would have the power to impose taxes, manage recreational facilities, provide refuse collection and perform other duties as delegated by the county board. Other governmental areas, including borrowing, land use planning, and police and fire services, would remain under the county government.

In spearheading the drive for the Waddel plan, Pennino argued that Reston residents have an "inherent American right" to govern themselves. "The time has come when they would like to decide for themselves what the problems are as they see them," she said.

Pennino told the committee that Reston residents desire more governmental services than do other Fairfax citizens and that the Waddell proposal offered them the opportunity to tax themselves to provide those services.

Former Democratic delegate Ray Vickery of Fairfax also testified in support of the plan, saying that it would give Reston residents a sense of "this is my home, this is my community, this is where I ought to be."

The proposal, Vickery said, "will provide the sense of identity and local control that a community like Reston needs and at the same time will not contribute to the fragmentation of the county."

The Waddell plan this week won the unanimous approval of the Fairfax supervisors.

Efforts to incorporate Reston as a town have been consistently opposed by county officials in the past, who have argued that such a move could cause economic hardships to the county if some of its state revenue sources were siphoned off for the new government.