To Bob Young, a real estate agent in Bethesda, it seemed like a fair trade: He would remove litter from a residential street, and in exchange Montgomery County would post a sign naming his company and giving him credit for the work.

But less than a week after the sign went up, the complaints came.

"I got a call from somebody very, very irate. He thought {the sign} was . . . intrusive. He was emphatic. He wanted it down."

Since the county began its Adopt-A-Road program in March, 174 individuals, groups and businesses have agreed to make curbside cleanliness their responsibility -- each contracting to clean up to a two-mile stretch, some agreeing to have their names posted on a sign along that street. But as the number of signs associated with the program increases, some county residents say the environment is being harmed, not helped, by the effort.

"These signs started sprouting up like dandelions," said Neal Gillen, an official of the West Montgomery County Civic Association. "It's the cheapest advertising money can buy."

The Potomac-based civic group is so upset with the proliferation of signs and what it considers to be county-sanctioned free advertising that its members are considering asking county officials to modify the program. Compounding the civic group's irritation is the state-sponsored Adopt-A-Highway program that operates in a similar fashion on state roads.

Leaders of the civic group have written a resolution, scheduled for a vote by members on Feb. 13, asking county and state officials to bar business names from the Adopt-A-Road or Adopt-A-Highway signs (individuals and nonprofit groups would be unaffected), reduce the size of the signs, post no more than one sign a mile per sponsor and improve the appearance of the signs. Some have said the state's orange-and-black signs are "garish."

The state program, which began nearly two years ago, has attracted the interest of 965 groups, said Debbie Brown, program coordinator. From April 1989 to July 1990, 99,000 bags of trash were picked up by community groups, Girl Scout troops, fraternities, churches and others along 1,300 to 1,400 miles of state roads, Brown said.

Brown said the state has not determined the amount of money saved by having volunteers instead of state crews clean those roadsides. The county, which pays $114 to put up each sign, does not clean curbsides, but it would cost the county as much as $100,000 to hire crews to do such work, said Aileen Rappaport, program director for Keep Montgomery County Beautiful, a county funded group that oversees the Adopt-A-Road program.

While Gillen said residents throughout the county are upset with the policy of permitting businesses to have their names printed on the signs, county and state officials say they have heard few complaints.

Rappaport said commercial groups make up 48 percent of the participants and are "an integral part." Not all participants request that their names be posted, and the number of commercial postings has not been determined, Rappaport said.

Jon A. Gerson, who this week took over as director of the Montgomery County Office of Economic Development, said the policy proposed by the civic group would mean that "Businesses are good enough to pick up the trash, but not good enough to be recognized for their contribution."

Rappaport said a task force will reconsider the size of the county's 30-inch by 24-inch blue and white signs and the 48-inch by 18-inch nameplates attached beneath them.

Young, who said he will continue to pick up litter along Lone Oak Drive, has requested the removal of his Shannon & Luchs sign after getting residents' opinions.