Gerry Gardner is from one of the first families in Sterling Park, a sprawling middle-income neighborhood built 20 years ago in eastern Loudoun County.

Last month, when the county Board of Supervisors voted to consider a subsidized housing project in Sterling Park, Gardner was one of three supervisors who voted against the proposal.

"My constituents are worried about the value of their housing going down," Gardner said. "That's the main issue. Low-income housing has a stigma attached to it. I guess most people have seen it fail and they are afraid it won't work here."

At issue is a 252-unit garden apartment complex, proposed a year ago by the Richmond development firm of Amurcon as part of a three-phase "planned community." The project would be on 33 acres southeast of Sterling Boulevard, between Circle Drive and E. Maple Avenue behind the Sterling Park shopping center.

The apartments, according to Loudoun housing coordinator Sandy Shope, would be the first phase of development; 60 of them would be subsidized housing, scattered throughout the complex. To qualify for subsidized housing, a family of four must have an income of at least $4,000 a year but not more than $21,000 a year.

The second phase, Shope said, calls for at least 102 subsidized dwellings for the elderly. The third phase would place 60 to 80 townhouses for sale on the open market. As a planned community, Shope added, there would also be churches, schools and shopping areas.

The project, which has drawn noisy opposition from Sterling Park residents, is supported by county officials, who say it could help some of the 1,600 families whose names are on waiting lists for housing assistance.

"The central issue is misunderstanding," said Al Sharp, assistant county administrator. "We are battling misconception and ignorance, and that's a shame. This is a chance to get away from the old concept of public housing, where there are huge cellblocks of public housing and people are warehoused."

Andrew R. Bird III, Republican supervisor from the Sterling district, lives half a mile from the proposed site. He is an ardent opponent of public housing and the Amurcon project.

"We are facing the possibility of rapid growth and our schools are already overcrowded," Bird said. "And, number one, there is no guarantee that Loudoun County residents will benefit from it. I just don't think Loudoun County needs to get involved in this type of thing. We don't need to entangle ourselves in this web of federal involvement. Fairfax is up to their ears in it, and it hasn't solved any of their problems. It's just created more."

The supervisors have scheduled two public hearings on the issue, at 8 p.m. Jan. 29 in the county administration building in Leesburg and at 8 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Sterling Middle School. A final vote on the proposal is expected in February.