Dan and Maryellen Little bought their split-level house on Wanegarden Drive near Germantown to admire the view of Lake Seneca, the trees in Black Hills Regional Park and Sugarloaf Mountain. But now the view from their screened deck is of a wall of town house roofs.

"We knew the town houses were going up, but we were also told that they would not {substantially} obstruct the view," said Maryellen Little, who moved into the house with her husband 18 months ago. "We're just not happy."

The Littles and a group of at least 18 other homeowners in the Churchill Town subdivision are trying to persuade the Artery Organization Inc., developers of the 88-unit Willow Cove town house project on the shore of Lake Seneca, to get rid of the loft units on a row of town houses to permit the area's residents to retain at least part of the view of the lake they said they were promised.

Since 1985, the residents have been talking and meeting with Artery executives, Montgomery County planners and members of the planning board in hopes of reaching a compromise. But they have had little success so far.

Churchill Town residents have argued that Artery built the town houses three feet higher than the Montgomery County Planning Board approved. The protesters said the measurement was to be from the bottom of the front door to the peak of the roof.

Artery officials said they lowered the land elevation to accommodate taller town houses. They also argued that the new houses are just five feet higher than Wanegarden Drive and that the building height did not matter as long as the residents' view was not "substantially obstructed."

Artery has argued that it should be allowed to build the remaining units with the lofts, but has agreed to donate $5,500 in pool equipment to the Churchill Town community pool as settlement of the dispute.

At a recent five-hour planning board hearing on the issue, Artery executives, their attorneys and architect convinced the panel to allow them to continue to build the remaining 44 lakefront town houses, which cost $90,000 and more.

Residents are still hoping to at least prevent the construction of the loft unit on one of the town houses. They also said they are considering legal action against Artery.

"We're surprised the board made a decision without carefully reviewing the information," said Michael Schreiber, one of the residents who has been seeking to save his community's lake view for the past 2 1/2 years. "As a community, we're very disappointed."

Churchill Town residents became involved in the Willow Cove site plan approval in May 1985. At hearings two years ago, residents urged Artery and the planning board to preserve the view of the lake from Wanegarden Road and from a pathway between several of the single-family houses.

According to a transcript of the May 25, 1985, meeting, David Holtz, the project's architect, assured Schreiber and other residents that the town house buildings would not interfere with the view.

In subsequent hearings, Churchill Town residents and Artery officials attempted to agree on an acceptable height above the street level that would not significantly obstruct the view.

Artery's original plans showed that one town house -- in a key line of sight for some of the homeowners -- was 6.5 feet above Wanegarden Drive, which separates the two developments, while another was 7.1 feet higher than the road.

In August 1985, the planning board approved construction of the two key lakefront units with rooflines 1.26 feet and 3.1 feet above Wanegarden. But Artery built the units 3.9 feet and 3.24 feet above the street.

The residents said they felt particularly pleased after they received copies of a Sept. 14 planning board staff report that found the Artery Organization in violation of the site plan.

The board's urban design division concluded that the loft units and the overall town house building heights were in violation of the original site plan.

The report, which served as a set of recommendations to the board, said the loft unit "exceeds the 25-foot building height by 1.5 feet as measured from the first floor elevation as shown on the approved building permits."

With a 25-foot building height, the residents should have at least a "distant view" of the opposite side of the lake and Black Hills Regional Park.

In addition, the report said that six new units should not be built with the loft units.

But at a Sept. 17 hearing, board members agreed with Artery's argument that the developer adhered to the site plan guidelines except for one town house, which has a loft unit that residents want removed.

No decision has been made on what to do about that unit.

Richard Morris, Artery's Willow Cove project manager, said he would not answer specific questions about the board's actions or the residents' complaints, but instead referred questions to Karen Kumm, a Montgomery County planner, who has worked on the case for more than a year. She did not return several phone calls.

Warren Dewhurst, who lives on Wild Cherry Lane, said he attended the hearing prepared to work out a compromise.

"We went down to the meeting all hot and ready to negotiate with the board and Artery, and instead we were placed in a position to defend {Karen} Kumm's report," he said. "The community was placed in a rather unfortunate position."

Dewhurst said he moved to the area in 1982 to take advantage of the quiet, country-like setting.

"Before the town houses, it was a nice place to go fishing and children loved to play down there," he said. "No one wanted to look at a wall of town houses and look into their living rooms and kitchens."