Alexandria and federal officials got together this week in what appeared to be a wedding of like minds over plans for the city's waterfront. But by the end of the meeting, it looked as if both sides were ready to call in a marriage counselor.

"You guys have changed your position," City Council member Donald C. Casey told federal officials.

"No we haven't, these ideas were in the original plans," responded National Park Service official Jack Benjamin.

At issue, once again, was what to do with the historic Alexandria waterfront. The city staff, the council and federal officials had come to the meeting Monday in an effort to reach a final agreement on the 1 1/2-mile-long area. The dispute over the waterfront began nearly eight years ago when the federal government claimed title to parts of the area, based on a 1791 survey. Since then, the government and the city have been working to reach agreement on a plan for use of land.

By the end of Monday's meeting, two key issues remained unresolved: whether the city or the federal government should, or can, buy several pieces of expensive waterfront property and whether the city alone should control development of the entire waterfront.

The land in question includes three privately owned tracts at the north and south ends of the waterfront known as the Bryant, Norton and Vepco parcels. A fourth parcel in question, at the foot of King Street, is occupied by the Old Dominion Boat Club.

At the meeting Monday, the city staff once again emphasized that it prefers a plan in which all four parcels would be purchased by the federal government and leased to the city. That means the city would control nearly all of the waterfront under one master plan for use of the land. According to one unofficial estimate, the total cost of all four properties would be more than $46 million.

However, some council members contended that neither the federal government nor the city had the funds to purchase the properties.

"The feds won't put up the money," said council member Carlyle C. Ring Jr., citing current Reagan administration pledges to cut federal spending.

"You don't have enough money (in the city budget) to purchase the land," member Donald C. Casey told City Manager Douglas Harman, whose staff presented the proposal.

"No," Harmon agreed, "a city purchase is not contemplated."

However, Harmon and federal officials said the only way the city would be able to control use of the land would be through a federal or city purchase plan.

Park Service official Benjamin indicated that he had discussed possibility of federal purchase and city control of the property with a high-ranking Reagan official. "We've gotten no sense of change direction," Benjamin said. "(The official) was sympathetic to our going out (to the public with the idea)."

Casey and council member James P. Morgan Jr. said they were surprised that the possibility of purchasing those properties was still under discussion, since as far they knew, neither the city nor the federal government had funds to buy the land.

Benjamin contended that the question had never been fully discussed, but said he expected the issue to come up at a public hearing on waterfront plans in May.

On less fractious matters, the council appeared to agree with federal officials on height limitations of 30 feet along the waterfront. Farther back from the water's edge, city officials want a 50-foot height limit, while the Park Service is arguing for a 45-foot limit.

One issue that remained unresolved after Monday's meeting was the precise definition of "open space." The city and the federal government generally have agreed that most of the waterfront should be open to the public in a park-like atmosphere, with some developed areas. However, environmentalists have contended that the "park-like open space" means grass and trees only with no development.

A public hearing, sponsored by the city and the Park Service, has been scheduled for May. Both sides hope to reach a final agreement on the waterfront by June.