Down a wooded lane off East West Highway in Chevy Chase, beyond the riding stables, is a complex of buildings whose beige and brown walls give no hint of a past that has emerged to ensnarl Montgomery County government and one man in a controversy about race and reputation.

It was here at the Meadowbrook Yard, a maintenance facility of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, that workers said there were segregated changing-room and bathroom facilities.

It was here -- as late as 1974 or a decade after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act -- that there was a room with a partition that workers used as lounge and lunchroom. The facts are in dispute, but several blacks who used the room said the partition illegally separated black from white.

The side used by blacks, they said, had a broken concrete and dirt floor, a wood stove for heat and a roof that always leaked in the rain. But the side used by the whites, they said, was cleaner, had oil-burning heat, a better floor and, most importantly, had the place where job openings were posted.

In 1974, eight black workers at Meadowbrook filed a complaint of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Without admitting guilt, the Montgomery and Prince George's park commission signed an EEOC agreement in 1977 to hire more minorities and women, in an action that most thought was the end of the episode.

But those events in a remote service yard at least 14 years ago have surfaced in a controversy that has tarnished the reputation -- some say unfairly -- of John P. Hewitt, the former park director. Hewitt's nomination to the county Planning Board has been temporarily blocked by an investigation of his role in the case.

The racially tinged controversy and the investigation ordered by the Montgomery County Council on July 7 has been a political embarrassment to County Executive Sidney Kramer, who had named Hewitt in the first nominations to the influential board by a county executive.

Hewitt, who for 29 years worked for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, is widely credited with improving the county's highly regarded park system. But even before the controversy erupted, his Planning Board nomination was opposed by some who believed that Hewitt, 64, a Republican who is a real estate agent in Silver Spring, might be too prodevelopment.

The issue of the Meadowbrook Yard was raised publicly by Roscoe R. Nix, president of the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP. Hewitt, Nix pointed out, was park director from 1957 to 1971 and was executive director of the commission from 1971 to 1974. "It {the racially separate area} was on his watch," Nix said, arguing that Hewitt should be held responsible.

Hewitt, who is white, vehemently denied in interviews with the council and with the press that he had any knowledge of the existence of segregated park facilities.

"I did not know, nor had I reason to know, that blacks and whites used separate areas of a changing room in a remote park maintenance shed," he said.

Hewitt pointed out that the EEOC complaint was made in October 1974, five months after his departure from the commission.

Hewitt's confirmation by the council seemed likely until former workers at Meadowbrook stepped forward, including a black man who still works for the park commission and a white supervisor who said his efforts fighting discrimination ultimately cost him his job.

"The change room in Meadowbrook was segregated," wrote black worker Francis G. Matthews in a letter to the council. "It would have been impossible for him {Hewitt} not to have known about the disparate changing facilities . . . because I personally saw him in the changing room . . . many times."

For some council members, Hewitt's credibility was at issue, so they ordered an investigation by Andrew Mansinne, the council's director of legislative oversight. The result of his nearly two weeks of interviews will be given to the council today with council action set for Thursday.

Some of Hewitt's suppporters have called the allegations part of a smear campaign, started by individuals who dislike Hewitt's philosophies and by officials who had sparred with him in the past. They question why the charges were not raised in 1974 or 1982 when Hewitt tried to win party nominations for county executive.

"A career spanning over three decades should not be judged on the basis of one segregated toilet in a maintenance yard," said D.S. Sastri, an attorney for the park commission. "There will not be a single employe of the park and planning commission, or a member of the public, who will come forward and state, Jack Hewitt ill-treated me because of my sex or my race."

Matthews sees it differently: "If he gets the job it means everything I did went down the drain because it'll show people still don't have the guts to tell it like it is."

"I wouldn't have opened my mouth if he {Hewitt} had said, 'Yes, this happened. It was wrong and it was corrected.' But when he denied it, I just about flipped," said Frank Welter, a former park employe who worked as a roads and grounds supervisor at Meadowbrook from 1971 to 1978.

Welter, who is white, said he complained to various park officials about the segregated facilities as well as other discriminatory practices.

Welter said he encouraged the men to file an EEOC complaint after he was consistently told by various park officials, including Hewitt's assistant, to stop agitating.

"You know, it was not an easy thing for these men to step forward," Welter said. "They were really scared . . . and I am sure it is not easy now."

Matthews was one of the eight EEOC plaintiffs.

"I want to put it {Meadowbrook} in back of me," Matthews, now a supervisor with the park commission, told a reporter.

But, he said, what happened at Meadowbrook cannot be denied and it angers him that some are trying to do just that.

"It was discrimination," said Matthews, whose account was corroborated by two other Meadowbrook employes who asked not to be identified, "It had to do with jobs and fairness and favorites."

William Colpitts, who investigated Meadowbrook Yard as park service director in 1974, said, "There were allegations, but no segregated facilities to my knowledge."

Stanton Ernst, the former associate director of parks -- in an observation he admits has been derided -- said that a separation between the races might have occurred as the result of blacks wanting to be with blacks and whites wanting to be with whites.

Other workers, also white, who worked at Meadowbrook advance the same theory about the old facility, which was dismantled as part of a remodeling in 1974.

Welter disagrees. "Then tell me why," he countered, "I had men who were upset about the conditions. Tell me why I had to meet with my black workers in one room and my white workers in another room."