This year's race for the Springfield District seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has revolved around the single dominant issue in Fairfax elections this year: development.

Voters in the Nov. 3 election will choose between a one-term incumbent who has been allied with the board's prodevelopment majority and a political novice who says this is the year to challenge that stance.

Republican Elaine McConnell won the seat four years ago with the strong backing of board Chairman John F. Herrity, a Republican whose home district is Springfield. During her tenure, she has been one of his reliable supporters.

Challenger Toni Carney, a Democrat and former School Board member, says that many of the county's biggest problems, particularly its notorious traffic jams, are in large part a result of the board's refusal to slow growth.

"We can't continue to grow at this pace and hope to catch up," Carney said.

As an example of the candidates' differences, Carney said she is "in general agreement" with a far-reaching proposal defeated by the board last December to curb office construction on 10,000 acres of prime land in the county and to force developers to help pay for road expansion.

McConnell was in the majority on the 5-to-4 vote against the plan, which she said in an interview would have turned the Rte. 28 corridor into "the truck capital of the world" by favoring plants and warehouses over office development.

She said expansion in that area also will bring in more tax revenue that could help fund, among other things, teacher raises. She has expressed concern in the past about how teacher raises under merit pay proposals would be paid for.

McConnell also said she has helped ease traffic in her district by working to win road projects worth more than $82 million.

Both candidates were supportive of legislation passed this year by the General Assembly that allowed for the creation of a special tax district along Rte. 28 in which taxes raised from developers and landowners will help finance the widening of the two-lane road to six.

Tom Giska, who in 1983 lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for the seat, is running again this year as an independent.

The Springfield District is a growing and diverse area, the largest of Fairfax's eight districts with 113 square miles at the county's southwestern borders.

The number of Springfield's registered voters has grown by about 60 percent from four years ago, from about 38,000 to more than 60,000, throwing a twist of uncertainty into the race. Springfield's population in 1986 was 111,613, with much of the district's considerable growth coming in its western portions.

As of last week, McConnell had raised $22,800 for the campaign, more than twice the $10,000 Carney said she has raised. Carney said she has no fund-raising goal but would not have run if she thought it would take $50,000 to win.

"I've never run for public office before, I've never been in politics before . . . . I had no illusions about getting a lot of money," she said.

Instead, Carney is relying on what she says is widespread lack of confidence in the current board and a charge that McConnell has not been an active board member.

Carney also has challenged the legality of an arrangement between the county and McConnell by which learning-disabled children are sent to the Accotink Academy, a private school owned by McConnell and her husband.

After her election in 1983, the county stopped paying subsidies directly to the school, responding to a state conflict-of-interest law that prohibits supervisors from holding contracts with school boards to which they appoint members. The county now pays parents vouchers, which are then passed on to the school for the children's tuition. Carney says the system has created a de facto contract.

McConnell dismisses the charge as a "dead issue," and disputes Carney's contention that she cannot give full-time attention to the board while she operates the school. "My school has not gotten much {of my} attention as far as time is concerned," said McConnell, 60.

Carney, 45, was a School Board member from 1978 to 1984, but did not seek reappointment when McConnell was elected. In a primary in 1983, McConnell defeated Republican Supervisor Marie B. Travesky, who had appointed Carney.

The slow-growth message as personified by Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) appears to be taking hold among large segments of the county, and a recent poll showed her leading Herrity by 12 points in their race for the chairmanship.

But Herrity still seems to enjoy strong backing in his home district, where McConnell won easily in 1983 with 9,240 votes against Democrat Gerry Serody's 6,111.

Springfield District resident Bob Doan, in the audience at a recent candidates' forum in Burke, is one voter who has decided to support McConnell. "The roads and things {McConnell} says she has worked on, she has," explained Doan, who described himself as leaning to Republicans.

On development, Doan said that six years ago homeowners were bearing more of the tax burden in the county because Fairfax was not attracting businesses the way Montgomery County was. He also believes the board has gained significant concessions and funding for improvements from developers.

Richard Korink, a lifelong Fairfax resident who has led citizens' efforts to control development in Centreville, sees it differently. McConnell "has not been out in front on those critical issues," Korink said. "It's not a question of no-growth versus growth. The real concern is why the supervisor hasn't taken a more out-front, dynamic approach."