The Arlington County Board yesterday approved a plan to protect the neighborhood atmosphere around the East Falls Church station of the Metro Orange Line, which is scheduled to open in three weeks.

The board unanimously accepted a future land use plan in the far northwestern corner of the county that will leave most neighborhoods of single-family homes intact, but will allow for redevelopment on some property at heights and densities considerably below those adopted at other Metro station areas, such as Rosslyn.

"We're putting in place the last major piece of the Metro station area plans," said board member Albert C. Eisenberg. He said the board's actions should lead to a "healthy combination of a rejuvenated area . . .[with a] commitment to the residential character of the community surrounding the Metro station."

The board also said it will begin coordinating plans with the city of Falls Church for low-rise redevelopment in the commercial and light industrial area that straddles the two jurisdictions.

In other action, the board unanimously rejected plans for a$40 million, 297-unit retirement home on the 20-acre Hendry tract on North 24th Street, a proposal that was opposed overwhelmingly by neighbors.

Board members conceded that a retirement home is sorely needed, but said the proposed project would intrude on the surrounding single-family home neighborhood and create significant traffic congestion. They also said they were concerned that approval of the project could prompt requests for dense development of adjacent parcels and would have a negative effect on the adjacent Potomac Palisades parklands.

County planners said the proposals for cooperative land use agreements between Arlington and Falls Church in the region surrounding the Metro station would be unprecedented for the two jurisdictions, which usually set development plans independently.

In the designated commercial areas, the Arlington planning staff has recommended that buildings fronting on major roads be no more than 65 feet high, or about six stories, and that buildings nearer residential areas be limited to 35 feet.

Falls Church now allows buildings as high as 85 feet in the same area. A local citizens group has recommended a maximum height of 45 feet.

Gary Kirkbride, chief of the county's planning section, said the policy guidelines for low-rise development in the commercial area are intended to "lay the ground rules for development, if and when it comes."

The board's rejection of the retirement home on the Hendry tract followed a lengthy hearing in which dozens of neighbors said approval of the rezoning request by developer John G. Georgelas & Sons Inc. would be a breach of faith with residents who bought land, believing the area would remain a single-family neighborhood.

"My family and neighbors should be able to depend on the integrity of the zoning code," said Donald Evans, who lives next to the tract.

Donald Lucas, president of the Parkway Citizens Association, representing the area where the project would have been built, suggested that the developer was motivated by profits. "Anyone who suggests otherwise . . . is hiding behind a facade of supposed charitable concern for the elderly," he said to applause from the audience.

Several speakers noted the need for such homes, particularly for low-income people. But they questioned the affordability of the project for most people, citing the $110,000 to $225,000 initiation fees and monthly charges of as much as $1,500. Neighbor Michael Cavanaugh said the project would be "in a Hanging Gardens of Babylon-type class."

"It's the right kind of project, the right time, but the wrong location," said board member Michael E. Brunner.