Prince William County Attorney John Foote told the Board of Supervisors last week that he regards the board's rezoning decisions over the last two years as responsible ones, despite mounting public pressure to slow development in the county.

Foote, who usually speaks to the board only on agenda matters, said he has heard criticism that the board approves rezoning applications because it is afraid of being sued if it denies them.

Foote said he does not believe that the board is motivated by the fear of being sued.

Foote said that his speech was inspired by a Fairfax judge's recent ruling upholding Fairfax County's efforts to limit development in the 41,000-acre Occoquan watershed to one house for every five acres. Some Fairfax landowners and developers sued the county, charging that such "downzoning" is contrary to the general welfare of the area, Foote said.

In a similar case, a Prince William developer has sued the county because he was denied approval to rezone 30 acres near Manassas from agricultural to residential for town houses. Instead, the supervisors rezoned the land to allow two single-family housing units per acre.

"This board's actions have been consistent with the county's comprehensive plan in all but two instances," Foote said. In those cases the supervisors had "sufficient reason" to deviate from the plan, he said.

Foote said later that the Fairfax decision was so important that he had a copy of it sent to each of the seven supervisors.

"Litigation for its own sake is official lawlessness," he said. "But if it happens because this board has made a responsible decision, I don't think we should be afraid of it."

The Fairfax decision does not give counties "the license to rezone at will, either," Foote added. The real winner in the Fairfax case, he said, was the county's comprehensive plan.

A hearing for the western end of the county on Prince William's comprehensive plan was held last week. Residents of the eastern end of the county will be heard this week, a planning office spokesman said.

The board approved a ban on general advertising billboards, although local merchants still will be allowed to advertise their products and services. The former policy on billboards was brought to the board's attention when Woodbridge supervisor Don Kidwell reported in December that a four-story-high, 20-ton billboard had been erected on Rte. 1 in Woodbridge. The new policy, which is effective immediately, limits new signs to a maximum size of 360 square feet.