Prince William's revised comprehensive guide to growth is months behind schedule, but citizens and business groups alike asked last week for more time to study the eight-pound document.

At last week's public hearing on the so-called comprehensive plan, the first of three such hearings, the civic groups said they were concerned that the revisions could lead to runaway growth and further strain facilities and roads. While many requested a delay, western county landowners, complaining that the plan overhaul has left their property in limbo too long and may stifle future growth, urged that the process by speeded up.

The comprehensive plan, which indicates permissible land uses and where roads, sewers and schools should go, has not had an overhaul in five years. It is the county's most important planning tool because rezoning requests can be denied if they do not conform to the plan.

Last week's public hearing marked the first time in the year-long process that the public has had the opportunity to comment on the plan. County staff members, working with a citizens committee appointed by the Board of Supervisors, have already produced three drafts of the guide.

The 29 people who testified last week focused on a series of sometimes contradictory concerns:

Runaway residential growth would result from a new water and sewer policy, which allows the supervisors to extend service after a public hearing. Citizens groups want to prohibit opening up new watersheds to sewer lines because they make denser growth possible.

"If we have a very liberal policy of extending sewers {into rural areas}, you will find we will have a great deal of residential development," said Henry Bibber, representing Occoquan Forest homeowners.

The long-term road map, which shows many existing rural two-lane roads as future six-lane highways, would destroy the countryside. Developers in particular said they do not want the county to require them to pay for unnecessary roads as part of rezoning agreements.

Dividing the county into large areas where certain kinds of growth are encouraged or discouraged would be unfair to land owners and would discourage economic development.

"Large areas will be frozen from their highest and best use . . . . Land prices will be further depressed," said Tim Everett, of Haymarket.

The plan would overwhelm the county with new homes without bringing badly needed commercial development.

Virtually everyone in Prince William agrees that commercial growth is needed to bring new jobs and a broader tax base to this bedroom community, but many civic activists expressed concern that the plan will prompt runaway residential growth, which requires more money in services -- especially schools -- than it generates in new tax dollars.

An outside consultant will not complete a financial analysis of the plan's impact until Tuesday.

One major controversy -- how the areas around Gainesville and Haymarket should be developed under the plan -- seems close to resolution.

Elizabeth Nickens, head of a citizens group that proposed an alternative plan for the area, testified last week that the group and the county staff are about to agree to a compromise.

Initially, the landowners wanted much more dense residential and commercial development than did county planners.

"We all know the potential pitfalls if this gets put back later and later," Nickens said, referring to the county board elections, slated for 1991.

Once the planning commission completes its hearings next month and makes proposed modifications, the plan will go on to the Board of County Supervisors for more hearings and final adoption.