The civic group that waged a bitter battle against Montgomery County's transferable development rights program, a tool designed to guide development and preserve open space, is ending its fight because of what it views as a continuing commitment by the county to keep the program going.

The West Montgomery County Citizens Association, which won a court ruling that invalidated the program on procedural grounds, announced last week that it will not appeal recent actions by the County Council legalizing the program.

Begun in 1980, the so-called TDR program limits owners of rural property in developing their land, but allows them to sell the development rights of that land. Developers buy these rights and use them to build more housing than would normally be allowed in portions of Damascus, Potomac, Gaithersburg, Olney, Darnestown, Travilah and the Rte. 29 corridor in eastern Montgomery.

While its supporters see the program as a way to preserve farmland and open space, others have criticized it for allowing developers to spend relatively little to exceed zoning limits.

A suit filed by the citizens association over intense development planned for the Avenel Farm tract in Potomac resulted in the Maryland Court of Appeals striking down the TDR program in April. The court held that the County Council wrongly used its planning powers to establish development rights and should have instead passed formal zoning changes as required by law.

Since the court decision, the council has enacted the formal zoning change cited by the court. In the 1,000-acre Avenel tract, the program is allowing developers to construct 850 houses on a parcel zoned to accommodate 391 homes.

The deadline for filing a court challenge to the new law passed last week.

In a written statement, the civic group said it decided not to appeal the council's action changing the TDR procedures because the "basic character of the TDR system would remain. Because nothing substantive would be gained, we see no merit in making an appeal."

Sarah Greening of the West Montgomery association said that while the group still believes the TDR legislation to be "bad policy," it appears unlikely that another lawsuit could succeed in significantly altering or abolishing the program.

"We exposed TDR for the planning clay feet that it had," she said. "It's a disaster, and at least we exposed that. We just think that anything that we could change would be fixed up, quick and dirty, by the council again. It's a political issue, so at this point, we can't achieve substantial change with TDRs."

The civic association spent $40,000 in legal fees during the two-year court fight.