Nearly 100 residents of the Mason Neck peninsula in southern Fairfax County, an area that abounds with wildlife, met with Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) recently to discuss development in their communities.

There are about 700 houses on the Mason Neck peninsula, which juts out into the Potomac east of Rte. 1 and south of Fort Belvoir. More than half the area is public lands, including Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, Pohick Bay Regional Park, Mason Neck State Park, Potomac Shoreline Regional Park, and Gunston Hall, the historic home of George Mason.

In a place where deer can be seen munching on azalea bushes in front lawns or bounding across church yards, residents' concern about development and desire to protect wildlife has increased significantly in recent years. Among the issues upsetting residents are:The possible uses of a 144-acre parcel east of Rte. 1 and north of Gunston Road, the main artery into Mason Neck. Pulte Home Corp. has planned to build a 384-unit project of single-family houses and town houses on the acreage. But this month, the county proposed to purchase the land for possible expansion of the Lower Potomac wastewater treatment plant, which serves almost a third of the county.

At the meeting, Hyland told residents that the Pulte project would be scrapped if the county could purchase the land, which is owned by an individual and not by Pulte.

If the plant is expanded, 30 percent of the land must be kept natural as a buffer to the community. The extension of sewer lines into Mason Neck. Nearly all the houses and Gunston Elementary School are connected to septic tanks.

Janet Cole, president of the Mason Neck Citizens Association, said residents of the older neighborhoods of Gunston Manor, Wiley and Gunston Heights are having problems with shallow septic tanks that are contaminating residents' wells. The residents want connections to public sewer lines to alleviate the problems.

Other residents, particularly of neighborhoods such as Belmont Park Estates, Hallowing Point and Harbor View, which have newer, more expensive homes, think public sewers would make it easier for developers to build large tracts of housing.

"The problem is the same people who don't want development want sewers and they don't understand that if you bring sewers in, you're going to get development," Cole said. "There are definite conflicts down here that we need to work out as a community." Increased traffic on Rte. 1. "Rte. 1 and Old Colchester Road {which runs just east of Rte. 1} are often bumper to bumper now during the morning rush hour," Cole explained. The only way residents of Mason Neck can get off the peninsula is via Rte. 1.

Some aspects of the growth are welcomed by the residents.

A 201,000-square-foot Gunston Plaza shopping center is planned on the west side of Rte. 1 at Armistead Road, and will bring much-needed services -- a department store, supermarket, restaurant, bank, day care center, drugstore and automotive shop.

The county plans to build a 10,000-square-foot library just south of the planned shopping center.

Except for a small country store, there is no commercial development on Mason Neck, "and we want to keep it that way," Cole said.

"To understand Mason Neck, you have to understand our history," Cole explained.

"In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were several proposals to develop Mason Neck," including building an airport and outer beltway. Citizens fought the plans and The Nature Conservancy, a national wildlife organization, bought much of the land and eventually sold it to the state and federal governments.

"The major battles in the past to preserve the parkland is a lot of what colors people's thoughts about protecting this area from overdevelopment," Cole said.

For the first time this year, Friends of Mason Neck, a nonprofit community group, awarded $500 for a tip that led to a hunter's conviction of killing a deer on public parkland.

The group plans to continue the antipoaching program.

In response to the concerns of Mason Neck and Lorton residents, the county is hiring a consultant to study development in the area.