Seventy-eight years ago, when Judge Thomas M. Anderson and Dr. William A. Linthicum were born, 800 people called Rockville home.

Today, Rockville is Maryland's second-largest city, with a population nearing 50,000.

But as the city transformed itself from a once-quiet, country retreat into a bustling urban sprawl, the two life-long friends kept up their historic homes, attempting to preserve some of the tranquility of days long gone.

At a city council meeting earlier this week, the two men appealed to the council to protect their homes in downtown Rockville from commercial encroachment.

A year ago, as part of the city's plan to redevelop its downtown, much of the area abutting the business district was rezoned for commercial development. t

Since many of the large homes surrounding Anderson's and Linthicum's had been turned into professional buildings, quite a few people viewed the rezoning from residential to commercial as a plus.Commercially zoned property, said a city official, is considered more valuable.

But to the two men, the new zoning translated into a tax bill over two times the previous amount. To meet the larger bill, the men might be forced to sell their homes, said their attorney, Anderson's son Thomas M. Anderson Jr.

"In all my 78 years," the senior Anderson told the council in a quiet, hoarse voice, "this is the first time I've ever asked for relief for anything."

Anderson said he was "shocked when his inflated tax bill arrived last July. It indicated he now owed the county $4,300 rather than the $1,600 he owed the year before.

"I developed the property," he said. "I planted all the trees. I just want to live there till I die. It won't be many years before that occurs."

The former circuit court judge added, "I have a sympathetic side. I hope you have one even greater than mine."

Linthicum, who has practiced medicine from his home for over 50 years, said he was never notified of the city's plan to rezone his property -- or he would have protested sooner.

"You can't fight change," he said. "That's not what we're trying to do. We want to live out the rest of our lives where we've always lived."

Following the men's request, Mayor William E. Hanna Jr. and the council voted unanimously to file an amendment to the city's zoning map to place the two properties back in the residenial zone.

The matter now will go before the city planning commission and a public hearing before the zoning change. A city official predicted the decision will be made within six months.

Hanna said the council's action was taken primarily because the men said they were not notified of the impending zoning change.

"We can't accuse them of trying to serve their own interests," Hanna said. "Most people want their properties upzoned." He added, "The city does not wish to disturb them."

Anderson's son said it is unclear whether the two men will receive a tax rebate if they win their zoning case. "On that matter, we'll just have to wait and see," the younger Anderson said.