Leaders in Fairfax County, home of one of the region's most aggressive anti-growth movements, are reconsidering their support for tough development restrictions, in part because of a worsening economy and falling tax revenue.

Ten months after the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to sharply scale back office development on 14,000 acres -- one of the most ambitious attempts in the Washington region to rein in what was seen as runaway growth -- the board now is divided about whether to appeal a court ruling that nullified the board's so-called downzoning law.

The economic slump has led to a softening in the board's attitudes toward business in other ways as well. A majority of supervisors, for instance, has promised not to raise business taxes next year, despite concerns about a projected $60 million deficit. And, in a surprise turnaround, the board this summer revised the mission of the county's Economic Development Authority, ordering it to resume trying to attract new business to the county.

Fairfax's shift is unusual in the region, where voters and officials in many local jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland have actively pushed tax and development policies opposed by business, even in recent months. In September, Montgomery Democrats chose slow-growth advocate Neal Potter as their nominee for county executive, while Arlington just last week voted to raise business taxes to ease the burden on homeowners.

The Fairfax board is scheduled to consider on Monday whether to appeal the downzoning ruling. In interviews, four board members said they support or are leaning toward appealing Fairfax Circuit Court Judge William G. Plummer's ruling. Three said they oppose or are leaning against an appeal, while two said they are undecided.

"We have spent a lot of money on this suit, and if we appeal at this point, it will take at least a year before it is heard, so we will continue the legal process at great expense at a time when we are not flush with funds," said Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee). "I'm not enthusiastic about appealing . . . . The times have passed us by with the economy the way it is."

Other supervisors, however, say that now is the time to enact new controls, not debate them.

"This is probably the best time for us to be trying to deal with the growth issue, when no one is in the middle of a {construction} project," said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Annandale). "The economy has slowed, and you would be hurting the fewest people by initiating the controls now."

"When the economy heats up again, the transportation we have put into place will be overwhelmed if we forfeit this opportunity," said board Chairman Audrey Moore (D). "We should not trade off the quality of life in Fairfax County for our children and our children's children for a short-term political compromise with the developers. I'm sure the apple looked pretty tempting to Adam, and I hope we don't make the same mistake he did."

Supervisor Lilla Richards (D-Dranesville) also said she supports appealing the decision, while Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville) said she supports an appeal "at this juncture."

In addition to Alexander, Republican Supervisors Thomas M. Davis III (Mason) and Elaine N. McConnell (Springfield) oppose an appeal, leaving Democrats Gerald Hyland (Mount Vernon) and Kate Hanley (Providence) as critical swing votes.

Circumstances have changed dramatically since the board's downzoning decision last December, in ways that make controls on growth less enticing:

The national, state and regional economies have turned sour, and projected budget deficits are mounting. Office vacancies are up, home sales are down, and property values are in a slide, causing a projected decline in local tax revenue.

Downzoning has been overturned by the General Assembly and the courts. The legislature invalidated about a quarter of the downzoning in the Route 28 Special Tax District, and also enacted a law that would prohibit future downzonings on many parcels in the county. The courts not only overturned the downzoning, but ruled that the board crafted it in illegal private meetings. The board is appealing that judgment.

The board has been subjected to a continuing barrage of criticism from business leaders for being "anti-business," not just because of the development crackdown, but also because of increases in business taxes.

The most visible sign that Fairfax's once robust economy has gone flat is in the number of new office buildings that are sitting empty. Business leaders say the downzoning has played a direct role in the vacancies by damaging the confidence of employers who want to move to the county or expand operations there.

Pennino blamed market forces for the decline in real estate values, not the downzoning. The problem, she said, is that banks have loaned too much money for projects at a time when the demand for new development is low because there is so much available office space.

"I'm very concerned about the vacancy rate of our office buildings, which is almost 17 percent," Pennino said. "That's why, to get back on track, the board ordered the {Economic Development Authority} to continue to recruit and find new businesses to come to Fairfax. We're not saying we need to build more offices, but let's fill up the offices we've got."

When slow-growth advocates took control of the board in 1988, they ordered the authority -- a quasi-governmental agency financed with tax dollars -- to shift its focus from attracting businesses to the county to retaining businesses and boosting the county's tourist industry. The concern, supervisors said, was that taxpayer dollars were being used to encourage more development at a time when taxpayers favored slower growth.

Although the development authority was not involved, the disclosure last week that Rockwell International Corp. has tentatively agreed to buy 68 acres in western Fairfax for a 1.5 million-square-foot office complex also was greeted with something close to euphoria by some supervisors. They said it was proof that the county is not anti-business and can still attract high-class corporate residents.

Nonetheless, according to Supervisor Davis, who opposes appealing Plummer's ruling, the downzoning drove a wedge between the business community and the board, and relations need to be improved. Because of the General Assembly and court actions, he said, the county now has less control over development than it did before the downzoning.

"We need reasonable restraints, but it doesn't look like this is working," said Davis, who is considering challenging Moore for the chairmanship next year. "We have an opportunity now to come back and do it the right way, because if we don't, we're going to lose the appeal and end up with nothing."

Having Davis and Moore potentially on opposite sides of the issue could make for interesting political theater, some observers said.

"While once it was clear what the politics were at the grass-roots level, that's now clouded up," said Michael S. Horwatt, a prominent lawyer. In the last election, he said, "There was a clear preference for stopping growth because of the traffic congestion, and today there may be greater concern about preserving and restoring economic prosperity, and that may make downzoning less appealing to the voters."

As it stands today, said a Democrat who asked not to be identified, it looks like Moore is embracing the {anti-growth} issue, while Davis seems to be favoring pocketbook issues, "and it's a hell of a risk on both of their parts."