A court challenge to Fairfax County's ordinance restricting commercial and industrial development opened yesterday as lawyers for landowners argued that the county sidestepped state law in passing the measure, producing a result that resembled "Alice in Wonderland."

In the first round of legal battles over the county's downzoning law, passed last December, landowners' lawyers argued that several technical failures by the county should nullify the ordinance, in which developers' right to build on thousands of acres was sharply limited.

Lawyers argued that, among other things, the county failed to properly advertise the downzoning proposal, failed to give landowners written notice, failed to keep minutes and did not enact the ordinance properly.

Although the issues to be decided are technical in nature, lawyers for both sides said they could overturn the downzoning law, which provoked bitter battles before the Board of Supervisors and the General Assembly in Richmond.

If the county's handling of technical procedures is upheld by Circuit Court Judge William G. Plummer, a second round of challenges focusing on the legality of downzoning will proceed, lawyers said.

"If we don't win now, we're going into more substantive issues, such as whether the board was arbitrary and capricious," said Jerry Emrich, a member of a team of lawyers for landowners.

At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars that landowners stand to lose if the county's vote reducing, by as much as half, the amount of development allowed on more than 14,000 acres is upheld. About a month after the ordinance was adopted, 269 lawsuits were filed against the county, in which landowners sought to have the ordinance overturned.

J. Thomas Lenhart, an attorney on the litigation steering committee, which represents landowners, argued that the advertisement published in newspapers could not be understood by the average person to mean that the board intended to downzone thousands of acres. "Nowhere {in the ad} is the term 'office use' listed," he told the judge. "Nowhere is the verb 'deleted' used."

Lenhart further argued that the formally adopted document was plagued by drafting errors that had the effect, in some cases, of deleting motor freight terminals instead of offices.

The ordinance with the mistaken references was admitted into court as evidence on Feb. 5. A week later, the judge received a memo from a county clerk, pointing out the mistakes and asking the judge to substitute two pages to accurately reflect the intentions of the board.

Lawyers argued yesterday the changes were made without formal action from the board and were therefore invalid.

Lenhart said the process of adoption was "chaotic" and the County Board overstepped legal bounds. "There is an Alice in Wonderland quality to these events," Lenhart said. "Nothing is clear and precise as to what happened on Dec. 11."

Everette G. Allen Jr., a lawyer with a Richmond firm representing the county, told the judge, "Listen to the adjectives, Alice in Wonderland, Keystone Kops. It's all silly."

Allen argued that the county informed the public properly in the advertisement and did not have to provide written notice because the zoning amendment dealt with more than 500 parcels. "The county had about 12 hearings," he said. "There is no doubt anybody didn't know what was going on."