The neighborhood organizing in Germantown began in August. It started in the Deep Woods subdivision and spread up Waters Landing Drive to others. Residents of single-family homes and town houses joined efforts to block construction of a 261-unit apartment complex, one-fifth of which would be subsidized for lower-income tenants.

Nearly 500 people signed letters of protest, and Monday night 60 of them trooped down to a Planning Board work session in Silver Spring.

There they learned that NV Properties, a McLean development firm, had acquired property already zoned for apartments. Thus, their objections weren't even discussed, even though the planners generally agreed there is too much high-density housing in the developing upper Montgomery County community designed more than a decade ago to be a diverse new town.

But residents have found that the battle itself -- joining neighbors and neighborhoods in a common cause against unwanted growth -- has given them what they've long lacked in this "corridor city" on I-270: a sense of community.

"When we first got the word, it was a matter of getting out and notifying people," said opposition organizer Ada Udell, 36, a government program analyst. "We met neighbors we'd never known. We met people in {the next subdivision}. They said, 'You're our buffer zone. We'll support you.' Once you all have the same cause, it kind of brings everybody together."

Added Jim Vallera, who lives one subdivision away from the proposed apartments: "This has at least given us a reason to get together and talk, and we find out we like each other. This is how communities are formed."

The new activism reflects a coming of age for Germantown in Montgomery County, where there is a decades-old tradition of intense civic involvement in other communities.

In a sense, it also is the greening of Germantown, the actions of people with a stake trying to sink roots in a community not known for nurturing them.

From 1979 to 1984, 79 percent of Germantown households moved in, moved out or moved from one Germantown house to another, contributing to a feeling of transience. Now, 34,000 people occupy 12,500 units, a majority of them town houses, throughout Germantown.

Two of six planned villages are nearly completed, but they appear from I-270 as a sea of town houses.

"To date," said a planners' report in August, "a strong sense of community identity has not evolved . . . . " But the alliances and friendships forged in the new battles against growth are helping to change that.

"A lot more residents are getting involved," said Laura Tise Magnuson, a member of the Chamber of Commerce who lives in a detached house in Gunners Lake Village. "The problem inherent in Germantown is it's full of young people with a lot of other things to concern themselves with, kids, jobs. If it's just a transient, town house community, people aren't going to put down stakes.

"Germantown is on the verge of major change," she said. "It's either going to be a nice place to live or it will go downhill. For a lot of people, Germantown is a lost cause. My husband and I moved out thinking if it gets too crowded, we'll just move back close-in. But we've seen how crowded close-in has gotten, so if anything, we'll move further out. But we'll fight hard first."

County planners, revising the 1974 blueprint for Germantown's growth, say they are trying to bring the reality back in line with the earlier vision. A staff draft is being reviewed by the Planning Board, which will hold public hearings and send it to the County Council for action.

The planners have proposed changes that would significantly reduce the population of Germantown over what could have been, and they have proposed changing the mix of housing types to provide fewer town houses and apartments and more single-family homes than would otherwise have been built.

Under their proposal, however, the percentage of town house and apartment units would still constitute a majority, although the amount of single-family homes would increase from 18 percent of the total to 28 percent.

The recommendations are based on criticisms by residents who complain about congestion and worry that there is no place for them to move up in Germantown's town house-dominated market and by owners of detached homes who fear overdevelopment will harm their investment.

Neighbors living near the proposed apartments say the suggestion of single-family homes making up 28 percent of the town's total is still too low, and, because it won't affect the project closest to them, doesn't solve their immediate predicament.

"This was our step up {from a town house into a detached home}, and this is the end of the line," said Eugene Schwartzbart, a government worker who lives on Deep Woods Court. "Now, I have to think about moving away . . . .

"What we're looking at -- those trees -- say goodbye to it. It's just beautiful in the summertime. I'd like to know why they call our development Deep Woods when they're going to knock the woods out."

The apartment property was zoned years ago for nine units per acre, neighbors learned last week. Currently, the county's adequate public facilities ordinance requires the developer to build roads and other improvements, but the County Council will soon consider exempting from such requirements developers who include subsidized low-cost housing.

Thus, in Germantown, there looms the prospect of one Montgomery policy flying in face of another: The county needs more low-cost housing (town houses in Germantown sell for about $90,000) but is also trying to limit growth.

On the apartment site, residents told county planners in a letter, "We feel that a park, additional recreational facilities or at least single-family detached homes should be constructed without the destruction of any trees."

In Kingsview, another Germantown village, still largely undeveloped, residents recently persuaded another developer to substitute single-family homes for the town houses and apartments he had planned to build.

The developer's decision drew praise from The Germantown Gazette, which editorialized last week: "Germantown has a tremendous number of town homes. What is needed in our community, if we are to indeed develop a sense of community, are more single-family homes. The way it is, as young families move up the economic ladder, they are forced to move out of the community. . . . "

But Eric Johnson, president of NV Properties, said he has no intention of changing his apartment plans. He stressed, however, that the garden apartment project will have a pool, clubhouse and many trees.

Johnson said he hopes to have the requirements of the county's adequate public facilities ordinance waived in return for his including the subsidized units. "It's one way to solve the adequate public facilities problem . . . . That's the only thing holding us up. It's a situation that in the end will be resolved." Meanwhile, he said, he hopes to meet with the residents to assuage their fears. "Hopefully, we'll be good neighbors."