Audrey Moore's colleagues on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors used to whisper about her before meetings, cutting her out of deals and plotting to enliven their long meetings by goading her into one more tirade against developers.

"It was most unpleasant," recalls Supervisor Martha V. Pennino.

Many of the supervisors who toyed with Moore in the early 1970s have left the board, but Audrey Moore endures.

Now 53, she is somewhat grayer and slower to rise to the bait, but her blue eyes still dart and her insistent New York voice sounds the message she has preached since 1966: Rapid growth is costly, and when the county's powerful developers profit, its hapless taxpayers often lose.

Many business executives and county officials in fast-growing Fairfax wish Moore would take her message and just go away. They say she is stubbornly waging a simplistic, publicity-hungry battle against a foe that won the war long ago.

She is difficult to dismiss, however, because--as her opponents acknowledge--she is one of the smartest and often the best-prepared member of the county board, with an uncanny and at times embarrassing memory for facts, figures and other politicians' past promises. What's more, Democrat Moore has proved herself the most successful vote-getter among the county's eight district supervisors despite little help from her own party. Most annoying of all, she often happens to be right.

"She knows before she opens her mouth she's not going to get very far with this board," says Lilla Richards, outgoing president of the Fairfax Federation of Citizens Associations. "But eventually, even though they don't want philosophically to go along with her, she gets action from the board because the conclusions are inescapable."

Others say Moore would accomplish more if she were more willing to compromise and less quick to see conspiratorial connections between powerful developers and county supervisors who vote against her. They also say she enjoys the luxury of being able to take many popular, but ill-conceived stands, knowing the board majority will rarely enact her positions into law.

"She was in a position to be the purest and the whitest of the white hats because, whether she would admit it or not, she knew the majority of the board would pull her chestnuts out of the fire," says Jean Packard, chairman of the board from 1973 to 1976. "There was a great deal of resentment."

Again this summer the nine-member board must face the questions Moore has pursued since she helped save Wakefield Park as an Annandale housewife 16 years ago: How fast should Fairfax grow, who should pay for that growth--and can the county do anything to control either answer? Some supervisors say the questions have resurfaced because Moore is revving up her 1983 reelection campaign, others say the debate has been triggered by the proposed replanning of Fairfax's sparsely developed west.

In either case, Moore is back on center stage, from which she never strays far, once again exasperating her colleagues, infuriating the county's zoning lawyers and, if history repeats itself, winning the affection of her Annandale and Burke constituents, who have plenty of time to think about her slow-growth philosophy as they sweat each morning in Braddock Road traffic.

"We don't accuse her of being a demagogue and we don't accuse her of being unstable, so we don't think she should be running around insulting the business community," says Philip M. Reilly, who just completed a one-year stint as president of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce and whose jaw muscles tend to tighten when he listens to Moore speak at board meetings. "Sometimes it seems she doesn't know when to stop."

Moore says she bears no ill will toward the county's increasingly vocal business community, but feels obliged to correct an imbalance of power between the people and the developers' community--bankers, architects, engineers, zoning lawyers, real estate brokers and everyone else who depends on growth.

"The developers have it all their own way here, and nobody's looking out for the residents or the future," says Moore. "I don't enjoy bringing up subjects the other board members don't want to hear, but if I ignored them I wouldn't be honest to the people I represent."

Moore says the Fairfax developers still hold the edge in county decision making that they were granted by the scandal-ridden board of the early 1960s, when 15 supervisors, bureaucrats and developers were indicted in zoning bribery cases and eight were convicted.

"If I were serving in Montgomery County," says Moore, drawing a comparison that never fails to irritate the local boosters on her board, "my guess is I would get along much better with the developer community and the people, because the balance there is much more reasonable.

"It's very easy to relax the rules, and it's much tougher to tighten them up. It's especially tough when your constituents--even though they're bright--just moved in or may be thinking of moving out, while the special interests watch every move the board makes."

Moore has always been aided in her crusade by a genuine interest in sewer fees, storm runoff, screening buffers, subdivision bonds and the rest of the nitty-gritty of the development business.

"I've ridden down to Richmond and tried to talk about politics and steer the conversation to other stuff, and this is what she likes to talk about," said Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III, a Republican who respects Moore's tenacity. "I spent a week with her that day," Davis said wonderingly.

Unlike most of her colleagues, she has no higher political ambitions--when pressed, she admits only to dreaming of "rewriting the land-use laws nationwide"--and so she can afford to alienate the builder-banker interests that finance most Northern Virginia campaigns.

Moore says her interest in land-use planning stems from her childhood in the New York City suburbs, where she remembers her family inching through five hours of traffic to spend a day at Jones Beach and policemen rousting nonresidents from a crowded suburban park.

She attended Mount Holyoke College and, when she tired of the all-women's school, transferred to the University of New Hampshire. She moved to the Washington area to be with her then-fiance but in 1955 she married an official of the Fish and Wildlife Service. They have three sons, now aged 21, 23 and 25.

Moore first appeared in Northern Virginia politics in 1968, described as "Mrs. Samuel V. Moore, conservation-minded housewife," fighting development in western Fairfax. Pennino, who was already a board member then, remembers Moore as an "extremist," while others remember her almost instinctive grasp of issues and how to get them publicized.

"Audrey had an intuitive ability to jump from A to L when everybody else was going from B to C to D to get to L," says Packard, the former board chairman who was getting involved at about the same time.

Packard and Moore both decided to run for the county board seat from Annandale in 1971. Moore defeated Packard in a primary and then turned a Republican supervisor out of office with more votes than any other district candidate, riding a crest of slow-growth sentiment that the incumbent board--which one critic later said followed a "scorched-earth" land-use policy--had underestimated drastically.

Moore quickly took the lead on the Democratic-majority board, rejecting rezoning requests, slowing sewer construction and generally stymieing a local construction industry that had never been crossed before. Within months, however, Moore and her colleagues were at odds.

Moore says the other supervisors were not serious about slowing growth, despite their rhetoric, and they resented her for questioning their sincerity. She won few friends, for instance, when she labeled then-supervisor Herbert E. Harris II "High-Rise Herb" as he was preparing to run for Congress.

The other supervisors said they wanted to slow growth responsibly, in a way that might survive court challenges.

"I remember Herb Harris saying, 'I wasn't elected to this seat to go down with all flags flying,' " Packard says.

"That was my first political lesson. Audrey felt that her mandate was, if necessary, to go down with all flags flying."

To scuttle her flags, the majority expelled Moore from the caucus that made appointments, redrew her district to take away one-third of the voters who knew her and stuck an unpopular proposed public housing project in one of the neighborhoods she represented.

She responded by winning more votes than any other district candidate in the 1975 election and again in 1979, when she defeated D. Patrick Mullins, an attractive and well-financed Republican who had been involved in Little League, PTA, Chamber of Commerce and church activities.

"I would start talking about the tax base and somebody would speak up about the time they had trouble with an intersection and she had gotten them a stop sign," Mullins recalls. "That's very tough to run against."

Moore's relationships with board members improved after that race. The supervisors are split 5 to 4 along party lines, with no clear philosophical majority, and her colleagues cannot afford to discount her vote. In addition, Moore occasionally gives her battering ram a rest.

"I've learned over the years you can't take on every issue and push every time," she says. "You have to kind of time things."

Many developers would disagree that Moore has mellowed. She still calls the Chamber of Commerce the "Land Speculation League." She still plagues other board members by linking them to John T. Hazel, a leading developer whose support is seen by some as a political liability. She recently kicked up a storm by trying to knock James W. Todd, the respected president of the Mobil Land Development Corp., off the Fairfax Economic Development Authority, saying Todd could in theory use his public position to help Mobil's private business.

Moore lost that one, 7 to 1 with one abstention, as the board gleefully attacked what they called her irresponsible proposal. Supervisors resent the press attention Moore gets, and they resent her moral certainty. "She takes cheap shots, like, 'The board has sold out,' " Pennino says. "Now, this board does not sell out . . . . Sometimes you have to compromise."

On some issues, however, the board has a hard time squelching her. Moore hammers at the $9 million of roads and sidewalks the county must build because builders defaulted on their promises, and the board is moving toward stricter requirements. She repeatedly points out that builder fees pay only a fraction of inspection costs, and gradually the board is raising the fees.

"If they wanted her, as Audrey says, to put on her white gloves and sit in the back pew, that wouldn't change anything," says former park authority member Nancy L. Brown, long a Moore supporter. "I don't think she's an extremist. I think she has a very rational point of view that she just won't be quiet about."