The 30,000 or so people who traveled through the rolling green hills of western Loudoun County during the weekend to the Village of Waterford saw what looked like a quaint country settlement, arrested in time, where people carry on quiet lives in their 18th century houses far removed from the rancor of modern life.

Fat chance. The people attending the famous Waterford Crafts Fair were visiting a battlefield -- a place engulfed in a debate that has polarized politics on Northern Virginia's suburban frontier.

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is scheduled today to vote on the Waterford Area Management Plan, which would set guidelines for future land use decisions around this village of 210 people -- a community that time and again has shown a knack for stirring controversies all out of proportion to its size.

Supporters maintain that the recommendations included in the Waterford plan, including downzoning of nearby farmland, are moderate measures designed to preserve the character of a place whose unique history and scenic beauty have earned it a designation by the U.S. Interior Depart- ment as a national historic landmark.

Critics, including some of the Waterford area farmers, have dubbed the plan the "Waterford Manifesto," attacking the document as a compendium of radical ideas that embody the worst aspects of Loudoun's politically potent preservation movement. Some have attacked the county's planning policies as a byzantine mechanism designed to halt growth and handicap developers whenever possible.

The arguments on the two sides are likely to echo with increasing frequency. With eastern Loudoun near Dulles International Airport now among Washington's most booming suburban areas, rising growth pressures are starting to be felt across the rural west.

The Waterford Area Management Plan will not itself change the zoning status of any land. As a part of the county's "comprehensive plan," it is designed to guide, but not necessarily dictate to, the Board of Supervisors as it makes future decisions about how land can be used in 1,450 acres in and around Waterford.

Among the measures offered as possible options in the document are to downzone some land in and around Waterford. In some areas, that proposal could reduce the number of houses that could be built by as much as 90 percent.

Also, the plan recommends dramatically expanding a special district in which a county review board rules whether proposed buildings would conform architecturally to the village's historic character.

"Waterford is worth protecting because it is a unique example" of 18th and 19th century architecture unblemished by surrounding development, said Constance Chamberlain, executive director of the Waterford Foundation, which runs the annual fair and figures prominently in public policy issues in the village.

Chamberlain added that Interior Department officials have warned that if excessive growth comes to Waterford, the village will be stripped of its historic landmark status. This status, she said, is already endangered by an approximately 40-house subdivision a developer has proposed.

"Waterford is a part of our national heritage, which, if it is destroyed, is gone forever," Chamberlain said.

"Waterford is not any more special and unique than any of these other areas" in western Loudoun, said Supervisor Andrew R. Bird III, an eastern Loudoun Republican who has been the board's leading champion of economic development. "It's an elitist document . . . . It's taking away from the right of someone to control their property to protect someone else's view."

Allen Hutchison, whose family has farmed land bordering the village limits for more than 60 years, agrees. "Most of the people who are for this thing have no stake in {farm} values," he said.

The dairy farmer added that his family has no plans to sell its land, but he said that if the family is forced to do so because of the depressed agricultural economy, it has a right to capture the full value of the property. Hutchison was part of a group that last week paid for a full-page advertisement in the Loudoun Times-Mirror attacking the Waterford plan.

Loudoun Board Chairman Betty W. Tatum said yesterday that the heated rhetoric surrounding the Waterford debate may have led residents to believe mistakenly that a vote to adopt the Waterford plan would be to enact all of its recommendations. She said she will recommend that the Waterford vote be delayed from today's meeting to later this month so that questions can be answered and passions cooled.

Controversy is not new to Waterford. The village's diverse population -- which includes many artists, professionals and others who moved to Loudoun as a sanctuary from the hectic pace and crowded landscape closer to Washington -- is scorned by some of the county's most conservative residents.

Preservation-minded villagers were mocked as the "Waterford Hysterical Society" when a dispute over a homeowner's chain-link fence bitterly divided the community a few years ago.

Waterford's preservationists deeply resent the stereotype casting them as eccentric extremists, and they blame Bird and other conservatives for cultivating this image for political advantage.

The preservationists have some allies on the county board. Supervisor Thomas S. Dodson (D-Mercer) said that because of Waterford's thriving tourism industry, which peaks with the annual crafts fair, preserving the village's character serves a broader public interest.