Today Centreville is a sleepy, historic community lying largely undisturbed in the far western corner of Fairfax County.

But within 20 years, county planners predict, the rising tide of residential and commercial development will have transformed this rural spot into a hubbub of activity.

On the 2,500 acres in and around Centreville, county planners say they expect to see as many as 13,000 homes and possibly as much as 5 million square feet of commercial office and retail space developing within the next few decades, with hotels and schools and other services for a community of approximately 32,000 people.

Hopefully, say local residents, Centreville's identity and historic qualities won't be entirely lost in the flood.

In an effort to plan this coming development, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently assembled an advisory group of landowners, residents and representatives from countywide organizations to help the team of county planners putting together a series of recommended master plan changes that will outline how the Centreville area develops.

Although the county planning staff's proposals for the Centreville area will not be drawn up until later this fall, staff members have been meeting with the Centreville advisory group twice a month since last January to map out what the final recommendations will look like.

The Centreville study area includes the land around the intersection of I-66, Route 28 (Sully Road) and Route 29-211. Confederate soldiers once camped there, protected by battlements that remain, and residents of the town are hoping that some of the older, historic buildings in the middle of Centreville can be preserved.

"We're considering including an historic overlay district in the center of town, which would protect some of the character that is there now," said Maya Huber, a member of the advisory group and a representative from the Occoquan Basin Task Force. "Essentially, the area has vast tracts of land zoned for town houses, and we would like to see the core develop as an employment center with the services and amenities a community like that will need."

Elizabeth Baker, project manager for the Centreville study and Area III plan manager for the county, said that, although plans for the area still are preliminary, she expects it will include a mix of housing types in a development pattern that becomes denser as it closes in on the central core, similar to the development pattern used in Reston.

But unlike Reston, where the landowners started with undeveloped land and master-minded a total community, development in the Centreville area will be much more limited by the road system, residential zoning and commercial strip zoning that already exists.

Ideally, said Huber, Centreville would have a central, urban core based on the existing town. It would meld the historic storefronts with community amenities such as parks, a community center and a market-square surrounded by shops. The urban center, said Huber, should be accessible both for pedestrians from the surrounding residential communities and by car.

There are two undeveloped tracts of land at the very heart of Centreville that were rezoned for a shopping mall years ago. Since the recent opening of the Fair Oaks Mall only one interchange east on I-66, the owners of those tracts have begun to rethink what they will do with them.

Representatives for the landowners of both tracts are on the advisory committee and, although neither was available for comment, Huber and Baker said that both landowners appear to be receptive to any ideas the advisory group might have for how their land could enhance Centreville development.

"We're still just bouncing ideas around and it is always difficult to get developers to provide community amenities," said Huber. "But we hope we can get them to agree to provide some of the amenities that would give Centreville a place with a central focus."