Dale Grant has lived in Bowie since 1965, about as long as there have been plans on the books to build the lavish $400 million New Town Center that the county planning board tentatively approved Thursday night.

But Grant, 52, a Navy engineer who raised five children in Bowie, has been leading the citizen fight against plans by Washington developer Mark Vogel to construct the giant commercial, retail and residential complex across from his Heather Hills subdivision.

The Prince George's County planning board temporarily froze all opposition to the project Thursday by voting 3 to 2 to approve the Vogel plan, subject to a list of conditions to be drawn up by the planning staff. The board asked the staff to consider such concerns as increased traffic and timing of construction. The board is scheduled to vote on the amended project on Jan. 9.

The tentative approval, reached after a 12-hour public hearing and an hour of private deliberation, left both proponents and opponents of the Vogel proposal stymied as to what will happen next.

"It seems to me," Grant said yesterday, "that in a way they've said, 'We don't want to to hear anything more . . . . We want the developer and the city and the planning staff to talk about it some more.'"

The issue is how best to build a 1.8 million-square-foot commercial and retail development, including a regional shopping mall the size of Tysons Corner Center, plus 1,520 residential units during the next 14 years.

That project, said Bowie city officials, residents and planners during the public hearing, would combine with the planned Maryland Science and Technology Center and International Renaissance Center nearby to transform the city of 37,000 into a new boom town.

That prospect is not a cheering one for residents of the Bowie neighborhoods, roughly bounded by John Hanson Highway (Rte. 50), Crain Highway (Rte. 301) and Mitchellville Road, who already face sluggish commuting to and from Washington.

"When they start talking 30,000 added jobs in an area as compact as this, and with the shoppers for the regional mall, hotel guests, et cetera, we're going to have lots of congestion and there's no way to get around that," Grant said.

Vogel, however, said in an interview yesterday that he is optimistic that he will be able to work out a compromise with community groups, city officials and county planners who have argued that his proposal is too grand.

"We're going to be involved in Bowie for a long time," he said, "and we certainly want to get off on the right foot."

The city of Bowie and a county recreation planner suggested conditions during the all-day hearing that would make Vogel's 275-acre project more amenable to them. Among them:

*That the residential and office components of the project be significantly reduced and developed in stages that are tied to planned upgrading of the roads serving the area, especially Rte. 197.

*That the developer donate $275,000 for a new fire station to serve the area. Vogel agreed to this condition.

*That a car pool and van pool system be devised to relieve the traffic burden. Vogel has proposed a ride sharing plan, but did not agree to the pool system.

"We can work it out," said Glenn T. Harrell Jr., Vogel's attorney. "If everybody is reasonable in negotiations before the 9th of January , then we will be able to come back with a proposal."

The planning board's decision will be the last major approval needed for the development, although it could be appealed to the County Council by any of the parties in the case.