For Arlington residents worried that the county was about to place a 70-bed jail release center in their back yard, the budget crunch facing the state and the county has a silver lining.

Arlington officials said last week they no longer are considering building a jail release facility, which was to have been combined with a homeless shelter and drug treatment center in a 130-bed complex.

Acknowledging that budget constraints helped to kill the corrections part of the plan, county officials proposed that the county build an 85-bed facility for the homeless and drug and alcohol addicts on a two-acre tract at Columbia Pike and Washington Boulevard. The county should be able to get the land for little or no cost from the Virginia Department of Transportation, officials said.

The move appeared to diffuse much of the resident opposition that has dogged plans for a residential corrections facility since May, when County Manager Anton S. Gardner offered a $4.7 million plan to put such a complex near Barcroft Park, primarily to relieve crowding in Arlington's jail. Gardner withdrew the plan when the state agreed to accept about 100 inmates from the county, and he appointed a citizen committee to help come up with a new proposal.

The panel, which throughout the summer had wrestled with ways to improve on Gardner's original plan, now finds its mission simplified by fiscal reality.

Committee members had agreed that the corrections unit be separated from the homeless shelter and drug treatment center, and had focused on 11 sites as possible locations for one or more of the programs.

But besides dropping the jail release center from consideration, the new county proposal in effect states that Arlington can afford only two of the 11 sites being considered by the panel: the Transportation Department tract and another site in the 3500 block of North Lee Highway, in the Cherrydale area. The latter site has been on the market for several years for $3.5 million; county officials figure they could get it for considerably less.

Arlington officials told the panel, which also has discussed recommending that the county split the homeless shelter and drug treatment center into separate facilities, that doing so would require one of the facilities to be delayed.

Although most committee members said they agree with the concept of the new proposal, its sudden emergence had some questioning the panel's influence in forming a plan, and they had several questions about the size of the new proposal.

"I'm . . . somewhat disturbed by the manner in which the county manager has come to us with what appears to be a fait accompli," committee member Ted Saks said.

"It would be such a large facility that it gets away from any neighborhood feel," said committee member Monica Craven, noting that the new proposal could be expanded to a 137-bed facility.

Ron Carlee, Arlington's director of human services, said the new proposal is not final, and invited the panel to offer alternatives.

In dropping plans for a jail release center, county officials also said they now believe that a regional jail to be built on 150 acres at Fort A.P. Hill near Fredericksburg, Va., is likely to win congressional approval. The land transfer for the proposed 1,000-bed jail has been approved by the Senate.

Tom Faust, Arlington's chief deputy sheriff, said the new jail would free jail space in Arlington by accepting low-risk inmates, and said that with the expected completion of a new county jail in 1992, the need for a jail release center would be greatly reduced.

Faust, a Democrat who is considered to be the leading candidate to replace Sheriff James A. Gondles Jr. when Gondles leaves office for a job with a corrections association, wrote a letter to county officials last week urging them to drop consideration of a jail release center.

Arlington Republicans, who are pushing one of their own for the sheriff's post, called Faust's emergence on the issue politically motivated. "It was obviously a political decision" for Faust, and not Gondles, to take the lead in urging that consideration of a jail release center be dropped, said Arlington County Republican Chairman Joan Haring. Republicans are pushing for Ronald Hager, a former chief deputy to Gondles, to fill Gondles's term.

Gondles will leave office in a few weeks. His successor will be chosen by Arlington's four circuit judges. The term expires next year.

"We've tried to say on a number of occasions that there was no demonstrated need" for a jail release center, said Haring, who said Faust is "being positioned to get some exposure before next year's election."

Although Faust had supported Gardner's initial plan for a jail release center, he said he recommended against it after learning that the regional jail is on track.

"People can call it what they want," Faust said. "But I think it wouldn't be right to go ahead with {a jail release center} now, until we're sure we really need it."