Eighteen months and $1.5 million after they began, Fairfax County officials have nearly completed an ambitious redrafting of the county's land-use plan for the next 20 years, but even some of its strongest supporters say the project is a shambles.

"There are major problems with it," said Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee). "We spent a lot of time and money and the result isn't what this county needs, and I'm not sure where the blame lies. But right now, I'm not interested in blame; I'm interested in salvaging a workable plan for Fairfax that doesn't tie us in knots."

In updating its Comprehensive Land Use Plan, Fairfax is struggling to resolve some of the most elemental and divisive issues facing most of the Washington region, where suburban growth in the last decade has mushroomed beyond many governments' ability to plan for it.

The plan fundamentally is a compromise between what residents want in their back yards and what is necessary to make the county work. Such plans decide where development will go. They dictate when to slice off a chunk of somebody's front yard to widen a road and shorten the commuting trip for hundreds of drivers. They determine whether the vacant lot on the corner should be a park or a convenience store.

According to critics, huge problem areas of the county, some expected to be the most intensely developed, are not addressed in the plan. The document seems to set impossible goals for reducing traffic and has touched off bitter neighborhood debates over proposed road improvements needed to ease countywide congestion.

And while the process has attracted less attention than last year's "downzoning" debate, it appears to be moving toward a new round of development restrictions that could lead to future battles in Richmond or the courts.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Audrey Moore (D) said that despite some problems, "The plan is the salvation. For the first time it gives the board the authority to control growth."

The board has scheduled a workshop on the plan for today, hoping to resolve major problems so the first phase can be adopted Monday, the last meeting before the board goes on summer vacation. Some board members, however, believe it could take months to resolve all of the plan's troubles.

The proposal sets out a vision of what the county should be like in the year 2010, with goals for transportation improvements, development, environmental quality, education, parks and other quality-of-life issues.

Its most critical component is a map of the 399-square-mile county that sets out broad tracts of land in a general development scheme -- offices here, houses there -- to help the Board of Supervisors manage growth. Laid over the map is a conceptual transportation system, showing existing and proposed roads, car-pool lanes, mass transit facilities and the like. The plan strives to balance development and transportation to achieve the goal of easing traffic congestion.

The old plan followed the same concept, but more development was allowed in the last 15 years than was envisioned, while only 25 percent of the proposed road improvements were built, leading to today's dismal transportation network.

And therein lies one of the biggest problems with the new plan, critics say.

At two recent public hearings before the County Board, about three-quarters of the roughly 100 residents who testified about the new plan said their biggest concern was to remove proposed road widenings from the map. Other people said the plan does not include enough new mass transit facilities.

"The biggest error we are still suffering from is the combination of pulling roads off the old plan and not building the roads that were in that plan," said Robert Kelly, who works for the local development firm of Hazel/Peterson Cos. "It appears that we are in the process of doing the exact same thing again in 1990."

Moore, in a board meeting three weeks ago, warned her colleagues that deleting proposed road widenings could worsen the county's already bleak transportation network, requiring another "wholesale" and "comprehensive" downzoning of development. Reaction among the eight other supervisors ranged from cool to frigid.

Even if all the roads are widened as proposed, the plan generally would allow less intensive development than is permitted today.

For instance, much of the Dulles corridor, one of the region's employment hot spots, has been built at densities from 17,500 to 30,500 square feet of office space an acre. Under the proposed plan, less than half of that would be allowed on many new construction sites.

The plan calls for the same low density in parts of the Route 28 corridor near Dulles International Airport, an apparently futile gesture because the General Assembly passed a law this year allowing more intensive development there.

Critics also say the plan does not include enough transportation improvements there, meaning potentially horrendous traffic jams as the corridor develops.

In one of its most controversial goals, the plan calls for traffic on roads countywide to move at a level D on a scale of A to G; that is roughly equivalent to conditions on the Capital Beltway just before rush hour.

In reality, many roads in the county, including Interstates 66 and 95 and the Beltway, already are at conditions far worse than level D.

Nonetheless, the plan goes on to say that if traffic is too congested in an area, builders will be banned from intensive development.

"That is a completely restrictive freeze on development," Alexander said. "I don't think we have anything in the county that's at {the} level of service D today. What it does is limit any new development in the county, period."

Virginia localities historically have not been allowed to block or phase in development because public facilities, such as roads, were inadequate. One county official said the provision tying development to traffic levels -- hailed by Moore as one of the most important elements of the new plan -- would be "thrown out on Day 1 in court."

In addition to the Route 28 corridor, the plan does not address other major problem areas of the county, including Tysons Corner, Lorton and Fort Belvoir. Such huge question marks could have a major impact on the validity of the plan's development and transportation goals.

Tysons Corner, the largest urban center in the county, is left out because it will be the subject of a special area plan.

Lorton -- home to a major prison, incinerator and landfill -- was left as a big blank space because residents also want a special area, their own individual face lift.

The plan also does not deal with Fort Belvoir, the Army base where officials want to build more than 10 million square feet of commercial buildings and add up to 35,000 residents and workers in the next 15 years.

The bottom line: If all those areas along with Route 28, were developed to the maximum, it could have a devastating impact on the plan's proposed transportation system.

Despite her concerns, Moore said, "Is it better to sit there and pretend things are going right or to say, 'These are the problems'? You can't fix them if you can't identify them."

The plan, she said, "has got a concept that I think {is} extremely good. It says we should not be granting a lot of development when everybody is stuck in traffic."