Laura Tise Magnuson was just married three years ago when she moved to Germantown in upper Montgomery County. The housing was affordable, but she and her husband agreed that they would live there temporarily and would move back downcounty to a nicer place when they "got richer."

However, Magnuson said, "I am not so sure we want to do that. There is less a desire to escape, and more wanting to make sure this is a nice place."

The disclosure last week that Marriott Corp. is planning its massive new corporate headquarters in Germantown is exciting news to Magnuson because it would provide thousands of jobs and bring related benefits. Yet the size of Marriott's plan -- 3 million square feet of office space, which approaches the mass of the Pentagon -- concerns her because the development could clog roads and crowd schools.

These concerns about further development in upper Montgomery -- particularly on the scale proposed by the $5 billion-a-year Marriott Corp. -- are central to a County Council debate that will determine the pace of the county's future growth and perhaps the shape of the Marriott complex.

At issue are proposals to change the basic tool that the county uses to manage development under a key 1973 county growth control law. The arguments -- while masked in the arcane techno-talk of land use planners -- basically boil down to neighborhood concerns: How do you make sure that the benefits of development are not overtaken by the demands it places on the community? Can the community do more harm than good to itself by discouraging growth? And, is it possible that the rights of those wanting change and those fearing it can be kept in balance?

Marriott's proposal would bring 9,000 jobs by the mid-1990s to a 210-acre tract off I-270 and Rte. 118, in an area called Germantown East.

This section is under a county-imposed moratorium that has limited new jobs and housing because of the demands they place on already-overburdened roads, schools and sewers.

The moratorium arises from the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, the 1973 law that requires that the county government determine that there are adequate facilities -- such as roads and sewers and schools -- before it approves a development that will need those services.

The purpose of the ordinance is not to prevent development but "to try to coordinate the timing of private development with public development," said Norman Christeller, who as chairman of the planning board applies the law to specific proposed projects. The law is used to defer projects until public facilities are in place and to alert the government that the facilities need to be built.

In Germantown East, major new road improvements on I-270, its interchanges and nearby roads are on tap by the state and county. These projects, according to county officials, should allow the moratorium to be lifted and development to proceed. The question before the council is how much new development to allow, and whether the amount allowed by the council will be enough for Marriott and others who want to build in Germantown East. The county's master plan targets Germantown East as a major housing and employment center and the next area to boom in development.

The council is preparing to make similar decisions for other parts of the county -- with a great deal of advice from the planning board and urging from the executive -- as it drafts an annual growth plan. This plan, which must be adopted by June 30, spells out exactly how much development can be approved by setting ceilings based on the capacity of roads.

A proposal recently submitted by County Executive Sidney Kramer sets ceilings that are higher than last year's, largely because new roads are in place to accommodate growth, officials say. The current countywide capacity is 44,715 new units of jobs and housing, and Kramer's new growth policy calls for 61,261, an increase of nearly 40 percent.

In the Germantown East area, which includes the Marriott site, the moratorium would be lifted and a ceiling of 709 new units placed on jobs and housing, far less than Marriott would eventually need.

"In order for Marriott to move ahead with their project, the county would have to first go a step further" by changing the way it applies the adequate public facilities ordinance, Kramer said.

Road capacity is now determined by figuring the traffic capacity that can be handled by the proposed road projects that are included in the first four years of the county's six-year capital improvement budget. A task force appointed by Kramer last year recommended that road capacity be calculated by using a formula that also takes in the fifth and sixth year of planned road projects.

The net effect of this would be to allow more new jobs and housing units sooner. If the change were made, countywide capacity for jobs and housing would be 103,135, more than double the current 44,715 units, and up substantially from the 61,261 units that would be available under Kramer's plan, which uses the old formula.

For the Germantown East area, the new six-year formula would mean that road capacity would allow for 9,959 jobs and housing units. It is unclear if even that is enough for Marriott and other projects that are under discussion. For example, county officials say that Aldre, a major developer, plans to build a regional shopping mall on property it owns adjacent to the Marriott land.

Kramer has not stated a position on whether he favors the change in formula. "This is a critically important decision," he said, and he wants to hear what the public has to say at council hearings before making a recommendation.

"This is major, major stuff. The impact of the difference between new and old is extraordinary," said council member Bruce Adams, noting that "it is as important as anything we will have on the table." Council member Isiah Leggett sees it as "hot," another chapter in the fight over growth that has loomed large on the county's political landscape.

Already the proposed change has been characterized in some local newspapers as loosening growth controls, with some civic activists reported to be opposed to the change. Allen E. Bender, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, wrote in his most recent civic newsletter that "I am concerned that the {Annual Growth Plan} continues to lower standards, and forces us to build public facilities at a rate that is faster than prudent."

County officials contend that the change would not allow an increased amount of development, that it would just allow it sooner. Christeller, who supports the change, said it does not make sense to deny approval for a development that will not be completed for 10 years on grounds that one cannot count road improvements that will be ready by the sixth year.

However, Christeller's support of the change is conditioned on a simultaneous tightening of the law. The council is considering whether to close what has been called a significant loophole: Before 1982, the planning board did not specify the size of developments it was allowing when it approved subdivisions. The result, Christeller said, is that developers whose subdivisions received approval before 1982 can now build additionally without regard to the public facilities ordinance.

Kramer has opposed the plan to remove the apparent loophole, saying that it would raise significant legal problems by denying developers rights they previously had been granted.

Kramer and Christeller clashed last fall in the debate over the redevelopment plans for Silver Spring, giving rise to speculation over whether changing the countywide development formula will be a replay of that bitter controversy.

There are similarities between the two issues because the number of jobs and traffic congestion lie at the heart of the debate. Citizens groups and the development community, which has expressed support for revising the formula, are likely to be major players, as they were in Silver Spring.

Kramer emphasized that Marriott's project will not be approved unless the roads can handle it.

He said he is sure of only one thing: "I have every confidence that some people will take issue with me no matter what my position is."