Some residents of Waterford, a historic village six miles northwest of Leesburg, are concerned that a 77-acre parcel of land adjacent to the village may be sold to a developer who could build up to 53 housing units on it.

According to Connie Chamberlain, executive director of the Waterford Foundation, such development "would be a catastrophe" to the relationship Waterford has with its rural setting and could "destroy the village itself."

Waterford resident Anne Parsons, whose real estate agency is handling the sale of the Payette property, said, "My family has been here longer than any of the others. My mother started the Waterford Foundation and held the first meeting on our front lawn. The sellers don't want to see the town ruined, but they are entitled to their inheritance."

The Waterford Foundation was founded years ago to guard the village from significant change. It has succeeded in having Waterford named a national historic landmark and a Loudoun County historical district. Waterford was founded by a Quaker community more than 250 years ago.

The land in question was recently put on the market for $1.2 million by the heirs of the family who owned it. It is zoned for residential and rural residential housing; 41 acres of it may be developed at one unit per acre and the other 36 acres may be developed at one unit for every three acres. If a developer chooses to sell the 41-acre parcel in quarter-acre lots -- which would require rezoning -- as many as 164 units could be built on that portion of the property.

To circumvent that happening, the foundation, which has about 400 members, has offered to buy the property. "We were turned down," said Chamberlain. "We didn't have enough money. Now the only thing that will save us is if a conservation saviour comes along with $1.2 million to spare and buys it."

The foundation would not oppose up to 12 units on the property, but Chamberlain admitted that a developer who pays the asking price would have to build at a higher density to make it profitable.

Not everyone in the area believes that the foundation should have a voice in what happens to a property outside Waterford. "We've got enough to worry about with the government telling us what to do," said Loyd Hutchinson, who runs a 1,550 acre dairy and beef cattle farm on his family's estate adjacent to the village. "I don't think an historical society should be able to tell us what to do, too."

Hutchinson said he may be forced to sell some of the family land to pay increasingly high tax bills. "There's not a lot of money in farming," he said.

If the land use plan for the village now under consideration by the Loudoun County Planning Commission is adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the county's historic boundary line, which includes only the village, will be extended to include more than 500 acres outside Waterford. Under the proposed plan, drawn up by a Waterford citizens advisory committee, a developer would be able to build to the density allowed by the current zoning but all construction would be subject to architectural review.

Planning commission Chairman John Stowars, whose district includes Waterford, said, "Some residents would like to see growth in Waterford to fill Waterford Elementary School. Some want things to stay as they are. Nothing we decide will please everyone, but we're going to do our best."

Chamberlain said, "If we had our choice, there wouldn't be any development there at all. The whole thing is abysmal."