Residents of the Salem's Grant subdivision in Gaithersburg have lost their fight to save the remaining 500-foot-long buffer of 20-foot hickory and dogwood trees separating the community from Warfield Road.

Kettler Bros., the project's developer, sent out a bulldozer Thursday morning to knock down the trees to continue construction of an eight-foot grassy shoulder and a drainage ditch along Warfield Road. During the past month, residents met with Montgomery County officials to try to persuade them to postpone the road improvements until there was more traffic. But the county, citing a need to make the road safer, said the developer must make the improvements.

"We still insist that the road needs to be widened for safety reasons," said Robert McGarry, the county's transportation director. "We've done this kind of thing at many, many other places in the county and we'd like to do the whole road, but that particular stretch is very bad."

As part of a compromise, Kettler met with several residents to work out a landscaping plan to plant nearly 80 trees, erect a split-rail wooden fence and build several berms.

"We're relieved that we're getting what they're giving us," said Bill Hartman, 28, who stood in front of bulldozers in August when they first began knocking down the trees. "But we're not absolutely pleased."

Many of the nearly 80 residents in the subdivision said they bought "There's absolutely no need to cut down the rest of those trees." -- resident Pat Cummings their $150,000, two-story homes expecting a view of the trees. Some of the homeowners said they were concerned about the safety of their children playing in back yards that had no barrier to prevent the possibility of out-of-control cars veering off the road and hitting their children.

Many of the residents said county planners told them there were no plans to remove the trees. However, the planners later said that they do not keep records on changes to regular residential streets, like that stretch of Warfield Road. Such road improvements are kept on file by the transportation department.

Kettler officials filed a permit to do the road work in April 1985 and received two extensions; the latest requires the company to complete the work by Nov. 1. According to county law, builders are required to improve roads as part of their subdivision plans.

Nonetheless, residents said they feel they are getting the short end of the deal.

"There's never been an accident there," said Pat Cummings, one of the Warfield Road residents, whose house once faced trees but now looks directly across to the back yards of the Salem's Grant homes. "There's absolutely no need to cut down the rest of those trees."

Cummings said she had unsuccessfully tried to persuade several of the county council members to intervene. She and other homeowners said there needs to be a better method for allowing residents to comment on road improvements that will affect them.

"In this county," Cummings said, "anybody who lives on a road with a {residential} development may end up living on a highway."