The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday approved a major residential zoning request in western Fairfax, the first rezoning in the area near the Fair Oaks Shopping Mall where massive development is planned.

The board agreed to a request by Artery Organization Inc. of Chevy Chase to build 173 town houses on 24.9 acres near Lee Highway (Rte.29) that are now densely wooded. Artery has not yet submitted plans for commercial development it plans in the area.

Supervisors James Scott, Democrat of Lee District, and Audrey Moore, Democrat of Annandale District, failed in their effort to delay action on the Artery case pending the outcome of a suit challenging the county's right to limit growth in the Occoquan watershed.

The board also rejected a motion by Scott to delay further rezoning cases on land in the area near the mall at the intersection of Interstate 66 and Route 50 until July 1.

County staff members said two major rezoning applications are scheduled to come before the board in the spring, including a closely watched request by developers John T. (Til) Hazel and Milton V. Peterson to rezone several hundred acres.

Several supervisors argued that the board could not defer Artery's request because state law requires action on rezoning applications within a year unless the applicant agrees to delays.

Artery filed its request in 1980 and would not agree to further delays, according to the firm's attorney Marc C. Bettius.

The firm did agree to one concession that deflected a concern of some board members. In approving the Route 50-I-66 development plans last summer, the board determined that developers should pay $2.50 per square foot of commercial development to help pay for area roads.

In November, Moore argued that the contribution figure was too low, and asked state highway officials to study the matter.

Those officials said the roads would cost $10 million to $15 million more than the $50 million to $55 million estimated by the county.

Although the Artery zoning case was relative small, as the first one in the area to be considered it could set a precedent that might lock the board into a much smaller developer contribution than needed. To bypass this issue, Artery agreed to set $2.50 as a minimum contribution and to accept whatever amount "has been adopted by the Board of Supervisors as a guideline for the 50/66 area at the time" that site plans for the commercial part of the Artery development are submitted.

Scott based his argument for delay on the fact that Bettius, in a suit challenging downzoning in the Occoquan watershed argued that the county's masterplan was illegal. Scott said he disagrees with Bettius, but if the courts should rule in Bettius' favor, all of the county's actions based on the plan would be in question, including those in the Fair Oaks Mall region.

Supervisors Chairman John Herrity argued that it would be illegal for the board to link the Occoquan and 50/66 issues. Moore and Scott agreed.

"I'm not linking it to the Occoquan. I'm linking it to the challenge to our comprehensive plan," said Scott.

In another development matter, the board turned down another in a series of requests by Herrity to get a public hearing for the residents of Circle Woods, a townhouse development slated to get a public housing project.