Caught in a controversy over the need for a stop sign at a town intersection, Garrett Park officials have settled on an exasperated plea for caution.

"At Least Slow Down (Formerly STOP)," read two new signs at the corner of Kenilworth and Argyle avenues. The signs are a direct steal from a New Yorker magazine cartoon, officials concede.

The quiet town of about 1,200 residents, north of the Beltway and east of Rockville Pike, is used to doing things differently: It was one of the first towns in the country to post signs saying "Nuclear Free Zone" on its borders.

But stop signs at Kenilworth and Argyle seemed a bit drastic to George Payne, one of five members of the Town Council. Yet he was defeated. on a 3-to-2 vote last January, and the signs were erected.

They were stolen within 24 hours.

Then Payne came across a New Yorker cartoon by Donald Reilly and saw a compromise in the making. His suggestion for slow-down signs was adopted.

Those signs, too, were stolen, but the new ones, installed about a week ago, are anchored in concrete.

Mayor Peggy Pratt, who had opposed them, saying traffic control is not a joking matter, says the signs seem to be working. "People have to stop to laugh," she said.