Four candidates have announced they will run for the Falls Church City Council May 10 and members of a new citizens group opposed to a major rezoning proposal in the city say they may field their own candidates to fight development.

The Falls Church Citizens Organization, a group of about 35 residents, opposes a developer's plan to rezone the largest undeveloped tract in the city and put up town houses. The seven-acre parcel is located off East Jefferson Street and is currently zoned for single-family homes. The group has gathered 1,100 signatures on a petition opposing the plan.

"Everyone {the group has talked to} without exception wants to maintain the integrity of their neighborhoods," said Charles Poulson, a member of the group. "We want to offer the citizens alternatives," he said, referring to the possibility that the group may field candidates for the council.

Incumbents Edward B. Strait and J. Roger Wollenberg, whose terms expire June 30, have said they will seek reelection to the seven-member council. Ray Stewart, who made an unsuccessful bid for the council two years ago, has declared his candidacy. And Philip J. Walsh, who was appointed to the School Board three months ago, announced Monday that he will seek election to the council.

Three seats on the council are up for election. Council member W. John Cameron, whose term also expires June 30, announced last month he will not run again. Cameron, a management consulting partner with the accounting firm of Ernst & Whinney and a member of the council since 1979, said he wants to devote more time to his business and family.

All four candidates said they will seek the endorsement of Citizens for a Better City, Falls Church's nonpartisan political organization. The group is scheduled to endorse three candidates at its nominating convention Feb. 4. No candidate has won election to the council without the group's endorsement since 1969.

John Bailey, acting president of the Falls Church Citizens Organization, said a decision on whether to field candidates in the upcoming election hinges on how the City Council votes on the rezoning and what views candidates hold on density and zoning issues.

"If we looked at the {candidates} and they all seemed to be for high density development, why support them?" Bailey said.

He said members of the group believe that some city officials are more intent on implementing the city's 1978 master plan, which allows buildings of greater density than town houses on the seven-acre parcel, than on listening to reasons why the master plan should be changed and the requested rezoning denied.

"They smile and nod when we talk but I'm not sure the message is getting across," Bailey said.

Bailey said members of the citizens group have not yet decided whether to seek the endorsement of Citizens for a Better City for any candidates they may decide to sponsor.

Ray Stewart, a partner in the Falls Church law firm of Birch, Stewart, Kolasch & Birch, said this week that he "will be a conservative in land use and density issues. I'm in favor of revitalizing the commercial areas but in the residential areas, I'm opposed to this continuing intrusion and rezoning."

Stewart said the city ought to review and amend the city's master plan to "define our goals and objectives in terms of density and development."

Stewart has opposed the city's proposal to use an unoccupied house in a single-family residential neighborhood as a group home for troubled teen-age girls. He said one of his objections to the project is that city officials signed a contract on the proposed home before informing citizens.

"Council made up its mind in the beginning," Stewart said. "There were never any public hearings on the need issue."

Stewart said he is further upset that the city's Planning Commission has recommended approval of the proposal, despite overwhelming opposition from the surrounding neighborhood.

"People have the perception that the city has been insensitive to what they want," he said. "A lot of people feel they're not listened to."

Incumbents Strait and Wollenberg feel city officials do listen.

"I believe the council and boards and commissions are very sensitive to public opinion and . . . are good listeners, which doesn't mean that after listening we end up agreeing with everything," said Wollenberg, a partner in the law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and a council member since 1982.

Strait, who retired from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in July and has served on the council nearly 12 years, is the only current council member to have stated publicly that he will oppose the town house proposal when it comes to the council for a vote. An outspoken advocate of preserving the small-town character of Falls Church, Strait was the only council member two years ago to cast a dissenting vote on a decision to widen a half-mile stretch of Broad Street.

"It symbolizes a lot," said Strait, referring to the current town house proposal. "If this becomes a reality, you set a precedent."

Wollenberg said he wants to wait and see how the proposal is further modified as it goes through the hearing process and how citizens respond to those modifications.

"I don't want to prejudge at what point a proposal ought to be approved," Wollenberg said. "I want to see the process go forward. I am tremendously impressed with not only the 1,100 signatures but I'm also very impressed with the depth and substantiality of the concerns."

Both incumbents are advocates of the girls home. "I think the need has been demonstrated," Strait said. "We were highly cognizant that there would be controversy."

"We think it is the socially responsible thing to do and we have no apologies for it," Wollenberg said.

Walsh, a partner in the law firm of Bromley, Brown & Walsh, said he decided to leave the School Board and run for the council because "it's a larger opportunity to serve the city. I view it as one seat that is open." He added, "I'm not against the current regime. I'm happy with how Falls Church is managed and operated."

While Walsh has been a strong advocate of the girls home, he said he's not running on specific issues.

"I don't come in with an ax to grind. I'm interested in the general things that make Falls Church a nice city to live in -- good schools, good services."

Walsh said he would like to see the city attract more high-quality businesses.

"I'm just a hard worker," he said. "I think what the City Council needs is someone to do the work that's necessary, to listen effectively and to decide what's in the interest of the city as a whole."