The Supreme Court, limiting the power of government officials to control land use and development, ruled 6 to 3 yesterday that property owners must be compensated when they are deprived of the use of their land even temporarily by zoning or other regulations.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, rejecting arguments by state, local and federal officials, said that when governments are found to have acted improperly in blocking development, property owners have a right to collect damages for the time the property could not be used.

The Fifth Amendment's requirement that "just compensation" be paid whenever government "takes" private property, Rehnquist ruled, applies retroactively when regulations blocking development are later ruled invalid.

"Temporary takings," Rehnquist said, "which . . . deny a landowner all use of his property, are not different in kind from permanent takings, for which the Constitution clearly requires compensation."

The ruling was denounced by state and local government organizations, whose officials said the decision gives commercial interests an unfair advantage over neighborhood, environmental and other groups by exposing governments to large damage awards if they rule against developers, but not if they rule against those seeking to block developers.

"This will upset the entire balance over land use control developed over the last 75 years," said Lee Ruck, general counsel of the National Association of Counties. "It will expose 39,000 different public agencies to money damage actions."

"In the past what you had was a balance, as a public entity considered the needs of the community and the needs of property owners and others in areas of housing or the environment," said Ruck. If the government was wrong in what it decided and the losing side sued, no damages would be awarded. After yesterday's ruling, he said, "a developer can get damages and the citizen opposition can't."

Alan Beals, executive director of the National League of Cities, said the "chilling prospect of a large retroactive damage claim after costly and drawn-out legal proceedings will surely intimidate local governments."

The court did not clarify what types of actions or level of regulation would be considered a "taking," Beals said. "Without a clear definition of the rules to be followed," he said, the court was "forcing our cities and towns into an unfair and costly game of Russian roulette, in which we never know what will make the gun go off."

But developers and conservative public-interest groups said the ruling was a "tremendous victory" and a "landmark" ruling for property rights. Gus Bauman, counsel for the National Association of Home Builders, said the court "has clearly said that if a land-use restriction goes too far, you will be compensated for it even if it is temporary."

"It just brings some reasonable balance between the individual and the government," Bauman said, "where there was no balance before because the government would always win. The most a property owner could get was a {court} declaration that the zoning was wrong after years of costly litigation, so property owners would roll over rather than go through the cost of lawsuits."

Bauman said the ruling was joined by liberal justices William J. Brennan Jr., and Thurgood Marshall, along with moderate Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. and conservatives Byron R. White and Antonin Scalia, because it was "an individual rights issue."

Other observers said the decision -- which left open the critical question of what level of government interference with property rights would amount to a "taking" -- would generate endless litigation, but might not in itself cripple government zoning and land-use powers.

John Delaney, a local attorney involved in land-use litigation in Maryland, said that, instead of triggering "an open-ended raid on public treasuries" by land owners, yesterday's decision might motivate governments to act more responsibly in zoning issues.

Yesterday's ruling came in a case called First English Evangelical Lutheran Church of Glendale v. County of Los Angeles, Calif. The church owned a 21-acre campground and several buildings in a canyon in the Angeles National Forest. A forest fire in 1977 denuded the hills upstream from the campground and a storm the next year flooded the campground and destroyed its buildings.

The county then passed an ordinance prohibiting construction or reconstruction in the canyon. The church sued for damages, claiming that the regulation was a "taking" in that it effectively denied them the use of their property.

California state courts threw out the damage suit, saying that the church could sue to overturn the ordinance but not to collect damages.

The high court, however, ruled that the church must be allowed to sue for damages. Rehnquist assumed for purposes of this decision that the church had been denied "all use of its property for a considerable period of years." He concluded that "invalidation of the ordinance without payment of fair value for use of the property during this period would be a constitutionally insufficient remedy."

The case goes back for further hearings to determine whether the ordinance did in fact amount to a "taking," and whether the county could justify its actions to escape liability.

"We realize that even our present holding will undoubtedly lessen to some extent the freedom and flexibility of land-use planners and governing bodies . . . when enacting land-use regulations," Rehnquist wrote. "But such consequences necessarily flow from any decision upholding a claim of constitutional right; many of the provisions of the Constitution are designed to limit the flexibility and freedom of governmental authorities and the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment is one of them."

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing in dissent, said the decision would set off a "litigation explosion. Most of it, I believe, will be counterproductive."

"The policy implications of today's decision are obvious and, I fear, far reaching," Stevens said. "Cautious local officials and land-use planners may avoid taking any action that might later be challenged and thus give rise to a damage action. Much important regulation will never be enacted, even perhaps in the health and safety area."

"The loose cannon the court fires today is not only unattached to the Constitution, but it also takes aim at a long line of precedents in the regulatory takings area," Stevens said. He was joined in part by Justices Harry A. Blackmun and Sandra Day O'Connor.