When landowners sit down with citizens to plan the future of a prized piece of land, some people think instinctively of the fox in the chicken coop.

How, skeptics ask, can citizens protect themselves against landowners who have the time, money and expertise -- not to mention the motivation -- to wring the greatest profits from their holdings? Particularly if the landowners are among the very people deciding how the land should be used.

Those questions have a special significance in Fairfax County, where a task force of citizens and landowners is wrapping up its conclusions on the kind of development that should take place on 2,000 acres of the most strategically located land in the county.

The land is clustered in a rough-shaped wedge created by routes 50 and 29-211 (just west of Fairfax City) and Stringfellow Road two miles to the west. The 50/60 Task Force, as the group is called, includes citizens representing both the immediate area and the county at large. But it also includes several developers who own the biggest and most important chunks of land on the site being studied, including John T. Hazel Jr., whose partnership controls 675 acres, or just under a third of the land.

The 50/66 tract is already the home of Fair Oaks Shopping Mall, and developers and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority see it as the next major area of industrial and commercial growth in the county. As such, both groups want to see enough high density zoning to capitalize on that anticipated growth.

But citizens, especially those who live near 50/66, fear that too much development could turn the area into a transportation and environmental nightmare.

With those opposing views, it would seem that the citizens and the developers are a prime example of the proverbial fox and chickens. But the analogy, in this case, may not be accurate.

The citizens, though they have some misgivings about the developers' proposals, are not complaining that they are being overrun.

"I don't see myself as one of the chickens," says Charles R. McAndrew, Greenbriar, a subdivision next to Hazel's land.

When Hazel presented a proposal for a campus-style industrial park on his land, McAndrew called on the expertise in the Greenbriar Citizens Association's land use committee, which he heads. "We have a transportation economist, a land appraiser with HUD and our newest member is a professional environmentalist. We are not innocents," McAndrew says.

Other citizen members point out that if they do strike a bad deal, the Fairfax Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors can veto the agreement.

In any case, economic realities, if not hardball negotiating, may force the developers and citizens to reach a consensus that leaves neither side feeling cheated.

If the developers take too rigid a position on some of the zoning they seek, their land could be tied up in legal controversy for years, robbing them of the potential for development -- and profits.

But judging from what both developers and citizens say, an impasse does not seem likely.

Says developer Hazel: "A Rosslyn-type development with high densities would never fly here. There's no sense in piling up the densities."

Says citizen Kress Malkerson: "They (the developers) have got to sell that stuff, and what will sell in Fairfax County has to be well done."

If the planning effort by developers and citizens in the 50/66 area breaks down, the developers could, under current zoning for the land, pave over the area with 5,000 single-family homes.

That would create a transportation mess of its own, and would not flatter the environment.

Nobody seems to want to see 5,000 single-family homes dotting the land. As citizen McAndrew says: "For every dollar the county takes in from new homes, it spends $1.35 in services. For every dollar it gets from commerce and industry, it spends 35 cents."

This equation has been challenged by Supervisor Aubrey Moore (D-Annandale), a supporter of more tightly controlled growth, who says new industry inevitably brings new homes. The economic development authority, however, says the homes will come whether or not the businesses do -- and cites the county's rapid growth over the past decade as evidence.

While citizens, by and large, say they have been able to deal productively with the developers on the 50/66 task force, all has not been sweetness and light. Malkerson, for example, says she wonders about the value of the $230,000 worth of advice from private consultants, paid for by the county. She doesn't think the consultants added that much to the seven-month planning effort.

Still, the question arises of whether the people who will profit most from development of the 50/66 should be included on a task force deciding the future of such a lucrative piece of property. according to a recent article in the Fairfax Journal, developers can expect to quintuple the value of their holdings if the task force approves their zoning recommendations, and if those recommendations are finally approved by the county.

About the only way the developers would not reap such profits, according to several observers, is if someone should discover that 50/66 had been used as a dumping ground for radioactive waste.

The fact is, according to long-time observers of development battles in Fairfax County, 50/66 is going to be transformed. It can be done with the citizens and the developers cooperating or it can be done with the developers going it alone, taking their case to the courts.

And when the developers go to the courts in Virginia, they invariably win.