Four weeks ago when his archrival, Audrey Moore, proposed a delay in a major rezoning case, Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity called her idea bizarre and said she was "sending the wrong signals."

Two weeks ago Herrity led the charge for a delay. "We have to have the figures to justify what we're doing," he explained. "It's going to take a while."

To the lawyer pushing for the rezoning, the brash and successful Marc E. Bettius, the reversal by Herrity and a few of his colleagues signaled a case of election-year jitters.

"Suddenly the thing has become a political football," Bettius said after the board postponed his case. "If people aren't mature enough to know what they're voting on, they shouldn't serve on that board."

As worried as some supervisors may be about reelection next November, they also seem genuinely perplexed by the controversial and potentially precedent-setting western Fairfax rezoning case, which almost everyone agrees is more significant than the 28 acres of woods it directly affects.

The case is the first to surface in a tranquil, 5,000-acre area the board has targeted for massive development.

Now the supervisors, with their power to multiply the value of land with one vote, are trying to decide how much of that value developers should have to put back into area roads -- or, from one point of view, how much current residents should be taxed to pay for future growth.

The 28 acres lie between suburb and country in western Fairfax, where waffle shops give way to barbecue pits and plastic pools to pickup trucks.

Next door to the white stucco All States Motel ("Low Weekly Rates") and across from a small Christian bookstore (Choice Books), the parcel seems an unlikely site for a 173-townhouse development.

But the land lies within an area that county planners envision as the new heart of Fairfax, with office parks, high-technology industry and a government center complete with atrium and an artificial lake.

The rezoning case is the first and one of the smallest that county officials expect in the area where Rte. 50 and Interstate 66 cross, west of Fairfax City. Overall, the county intends to spur commercial development, which would generate tax revenue, instead of residential growth, which would increase the demand for county services.

The townhouse proposal, by the Artery Organization Inc. of Chevy Chase, therefore embarrassed supporters of the plan, since it includes only a few offices and stores among the 173 homes -- about six times as many as would be allowed under the current zoning.

"My whole rationale for supporting the plan was that we were going to get a commercial-industrial base," said Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III, who like Moore represents an inner-county district where growth largely is a thing of the past. "If Artery walks, what have we lost?"

No one is suggesting, however, that Artery has failed to meet the requirements of the plan, which the supervisors approved last summer with only Moore dissenting.

The county plan allows developers to increase the density of what they build, and so their profit, in return for helping pay for the roads throughout the area.

Bettius said he believes it is "immoral" to demand that developers -- who will pass the costs on to homebuyers -- help pay for roads beyond their own subdivision.

"Is it zoning for sale?" Bettius asked. "It's the citizens who don't live there yet who are going to pay the price. . . . The function of government is also to serve the people who don't yet live here."

But Bettius said he understands why supervisors want developers and future homeowners to pay.

"Everyone who lives in the county has the perception that it takes too long to get to work, and the schools are already too crowded," he said. "The philosophy that appeals to them is, 'I've got mine, let's shut it down.' "

Davis said he supports development but believes that new ways to finance it must be found. "It's a state responsibility," Davis said of road construction, "but the money just isn't there anymore."

In November Moore said she believed the contributions required from developers in the area had been set too low.

She asked the Virginia highway department to estimate the road improvement costs in the Rte. 50/I-66 area, costs the county had pegged at $50 million to $55 million.

"The board has already voted on this issue," Herrity said then, opposing Moore's request. "I think that to imply we're going to move in a different direction at this point is sending the wrong signals."

In the next few weeks, however, Herrity, as astute a politician as sits on the board, was arguing for a delay.

Several colleagues noted that in the meantime he had dared Moore to run against him next year -- and that Moore, who has built a loyal following with her consistent attacks on growth, had not declined.

In addition, supervisors know they soon will face a much larger -- and more closely watched -- rezoning in the Rte. 50/I-66 area for several hundred acres owned by the influential developers John T. (Til) Hazel and Milton V. Peterson. The standards they set for Artery may influence how much they can demand from the larger project.

Two weeks ago, therefore, Herrity argued for a delay until the county studies the possibility of creating a special taxing district in the Artery project area and until the fate of the proposed increase in federal highway funds is known.

Supervisor Joseph Alexander, a conservative Democrat on the board, echoed Herrity's earlier message in questioning the delay.

"I thought we adopted a policy," Alexander said. "Once we go through all this, we start giving shaky signals to business . . . that this board is not sure what it did, number one, or is not happy with what it did."

A few days later, state highway officials estimated the roads would cost $10 million to $15 million more than Fairfax officials had projected.

Even with that response, however, few county officials were willing to predict when the board would act, leading Bettius to commit what for a zoning lawyer is the ultimate heresy.

"You end up in this whole debacle having more respect for Audrey Moore than anyone else," he said, "because at least she's been consistent."