Reston is an acquired taste. To move there, a new resident must agree to live by the planned community's infamous design regulations, which govern a myriad of details, down to the type of light fixtures residents may install outside their front doors.

Not everyone has acquired the taste. Two years ago, Reston officials modified the rules after many residents complained that they were too extensive and too strict.

Now some residents want the rules revised again. At a heated two-hour hearing last week on whether the positioning and appearance of an outdoor light owned by Stan and Linda Shaw violated design rules, about a dozen disgruntled residents defended the couple's right to keep the fixture as installed. And they waved petitions signed by scores of residents fed up with strict design regulations.

The petitions charged that the Design Review Board, which interprets and enforces design rules, "invades privacy without due process . . . . We reserve the right to withhold payment of our {annual} dues if our grievances are not redressed."

The Shaws had installed a security light over their front door to ward off intruders. It shines only briefly when someone walks within a few feet of it.

The review board, a panel of seven design professionals and two lay residents appointed by a developer and Reston's elected board of directors, ultimately ruled against the light. The board said it was not properly shaded, directed downward or tucked under a roof eave discreetly enough to diminish any glare, which the design rules require. Although the Shaws said neighbors approved of the light, the board ordered the couple to comply with the rules or get rid of the light.

So far, the light remains as installed.

"What the Shaws are asking for is not equal treatment, but to be handled differently than everyone else," said board member Cheryl Terio.

The Shaws and other residents were furious, and heckled the board throughout the proceedings.

"How rational is it for a nine-member DRB panel to meet on three separate occasions . . . just to tell us that they do not like the location and appearance of a $17 porch light?" asked Stan Shaw.

Only board member Robert Meyer sided with the Shaws. "I think we're in here fighting about something that isn't the problem, and which doesn't bother anyone except the people up here" on the board, he said. Meyer demanded that Reston voters be allowed to decide whether to revise the rules.

Meyer, a longtime critic of the review board who was appointed last spring, said the design review process is too subjective, leading to inconsistent decisions. The review board "does not adequately reflect the desires of the homeowners who, after all, invested in the property . . . . {and} reduces us to the status of condominium owners, where we own the inside but not the outside" of residences, he said.

"I think that what review board members should be doing is looking at the egregious violations . . . not trying to create perfection, but trying to prevent the worst sorts of errors," Meyer said.

Meyer is the lone board member with those opinions, according to other members. They argue that Reston is a planned community, not an incorporated town, and that unlike a city architectural review board, the panel was not set up to represent changing community interests.

"We're not voted into office. We work . . . directly out of the {design} covenants," said Michael LeMay, the board chairman. "It's too tight a community to allow each individual homeowner to do what he wanted."

Responding to criticism that the board is petty, paying undue attention to light fixtures and other small design features, LeMay said the harmonious appearance of small features is important to the overall design of Reston. Without harmonious details, he said, "there would be anarchy. We'd just destroy the sense of community."

The Shaws "made a commitment and they violated the commitment and therein lies their frustration," he said. He called the public hearing "a silly display" by a politically motivated small group with a "destructive influence."

Meyer planned to send a letter about the review board to Reston directors this week. He said the letter would urge the board of directors not to enforce minor violations. The board of directors ultimately decides whether to take legal action against homeowners who refuse to comply with review board decisions.