The Montgomery County Board of Appeals has sided with a Bethesda civic group and rejected the Hechinger Co.'s plans to build a 39,000-square foot store along River Road.

In a case that has been the subject of numerous hearings in the last year, the Kenwood Citizens Association challenged the county Department of Environmental Protection, which granted a building permit to Hechinger for the proposed store at 5225 River Rd. The group argued that the building permit should not have been issued, claiming that Hechinger was not a hardware store -- a use permitted in the zone -- but a lumberyard as claimed in the company's slogan, "the world's most unusual lumberyard."

In a narrow 3-to-2 opinion, the majority of the board agreed with the citizens, finding that Hechinger does not operate primarily as a hardware store, but instead does most of its business from the sale of lumber and other big-ticket home improvement items.

The Board of Appeals rules on variances and special exceptions to zoning laws in addition to its duties to hear appeals of building permits.

Roger Wright, Hechinger's vice president for real estate and development, said the company would decide by the end of this week whether to appeal the decision to the Circuit Court.

Wright called the board's decision "very difficult for us . . . . It is hard for us to understand how they came to that decision . . . . "

Pat Baptiste, chairman of the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, an umbrella group for several civic groups including Kenwood, said that between $15,000 and $25,000 had been spent on legal and other fees.

"We're overjoyed with the ruling . . . . We obviously convinced them Hechinger's is inappropriate for that piece of property," she said.