Fairfax County has thrown a major stumbling block in the path of the Hazel-Peterson Cos.' plans for a 50-acre mixed-use development known as Virginia Center adjacent to the Vienna Metro station.

Even though Hazel/Peterson months ago filed for rezoning of the site from planned development housing to planned development commercial, Fairfax has now told company officials they must first ask for a change in the county's comprehensive land-use plan before any rezoning action can be taken.

That decision will result in a delay of at least 18 months on any action on the proposed development, which is to include a 34-story building and two major hotels near the I-66 and Nutley Street interchange. Hazel/Peterson had hoped to start construction this summer.

Sidney Steele, acting director of the Fairfax Office of Comprehensive Planning, said the decision to require Hazel/Peterson to get a plan amendment was his.

"The position I have taken is that under the current plan I cannot say it [Virginia Center] is in accordance with the plan. It [the plan] does not have the flexibility to double the density and change the site from primarily residential to commercial," Steele said.

A spokesman for Hazel/Peterson Cos. said the firm does not think a plan amendment is needed. However, company officials have been working with a special task force studying potential development around the Vienna Metro station, which is the end of the Orange line in Virginia.

"They had hoped to go to zoning by early July," Steele said. He predicted the task force work won't be complete until January. That task force is expected to make recommendations for plan language governing land around the station.

Developer John T. (Til) Hazel said his company is "disappointed that the county's plan process for the task forces did not function. We were promised completion of the task force study by spring of this year. They didn't get their consultants until this year. They didn't focus on the area until we filed our zoning.

"Now we are in a position of having to wait," Hazel said. Hazel, a leading land-use attorney in Fairfax until he largely gave up representing other developers to become one of the county's leading ones himself, said he is willing to wait for a while and use the time to continue to work with residents of the neighborhood surrounding the station site to solve problems they may have with the proposal.

"Nothing of substance gets done in a hurry," Hazel said Thursday. He said most developments that are creative in design generate a certain amount of stress when presented to Fairfax County.

"The county is aware of the time problem, but there is a growing recognition in the planning staff, among citizens, and in the business community that this project is worthy of study," Hazel said. He said the site is unique not only in Fairfax but also throughout the region because of its proximity to a Metro station terminus and an interstate highway.

"I have gotten a half-dozen phone calls from local businesses who would like to be at Virginia Center in recent weeks," Hazel said.

"We wanted to open with Metro in September of 1986, but Metro moved up its opening to April," Hazel said. "Then we wanted to get a building started" before Metro opened, but now will miss the current building season, he said.

Meanwhile, Hazel/Peterson plans to go ahead with construction of a major road from Nutley Street into the station area at a cost of approximately $750,000. "We are willing to take the risk," Hazel said.