A $3 million plan by the Maryland highway administration to move a Capital Beltway entrance ramp in Chevy Chase has prompted a pitched battle between residents of two neighboring communities.

Residents of North Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase Valley, where houses cost as much as $300,000, are fighting over a State Highway Administration proposal to close an eastbound on-ramp on Kensington Parkway and build a replacement on Connecticut Avenue.

The state also is considering other options costing between $300,000 and $1.9 million that would involve widening Connecticut Avenue from six to eight lanes and building a road to connect it with Kensington Parkway to handle the increased traffic that the change would cause.

Under the state plan, the 10,500 cars that currently use the parkway ramp on a typical day would be rerouted to Connecticut Avenue, which already currently handles 52,700 cars a day.

The Chevy Chase Valley Citizens Association, a group of 55 homeowners whose house are west of Connecticut Avenue and 11 homeowners whose houses face Connecticut Avenue on the east, oppose the plan. They say that construction of the ramp on Connecticut would increase traffic on an already congested street, making it more difficult for them to get in and out of their neighborhood and lowering property values.

Mark Hessel, the group's attorney, said that 21 homes facing Connecticut Avenue would be most affected, since they would lose part of their front yards if the state widens the street.

Meanwhile, residents in North Chevy Chase, a special taxing district whose 195 homes line Kensington Parkway and surrounding side streets, support the proposal.

They say that shifting the ramp to Connecticut Avenue would fulfill a promise made by state highway officials years ago to move the ramp. They also say the proposal would eliminate the danger of cars speeding through their neighborhood on their way to the Beltway -- a situation that Jeff Noah, chairman of the community's citizens committee, said makes it unsafe to cross Kensington Parkway and has split the community.

Each communities accuses the other of being selfish. Neither is willing to compromise, which residents of both communities made clear at an emotional hearing last Monday night.

About 325 people, including North Chevy Chase residents wearing six-inch-wide green and white buttons urging officials to "Move the Ramp," packed the assembly room of the North Chevy Chase Elementary School to hear residents of both neighborhoods present arguments to the highway administration. State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff said a decision won't be made for several months.

Sue Ellen White, the highway administration's project manager for the plan, said: "I have never worked on a project that has so many people so divided."

Hessel described the dispute as "the classic 'not-in-my-backyard syndrome'. No one wants the traffic." Michael Snyder, the highway administration's district engineer for Montgomery and Prince George's counties, called the dispute "unfortunate. It would have been nice if they {the two communities} would have been able to reach a compromise themselves. The state just gets caught in the middle."

White said that the state developed the plan to satisfy North Chevy Chase residents, who had sought help from various local lawmakers to pressure the highway administration into moving the ramp.

But White said moving the ramp and making other improvements also would eliminate various safety hazards and enable both the Beltway and Connecticut Avenue to handle more traffic in the future.

Currently, eastbound cars on the Beltway that exit north onto Connecticut Avenue must weave into traffic that is entering the Beltway from southbound Connecticut Avenue traffic in a pretzel-like configuration of on-and-off ramps. The new ramp would eliminate the weave, as well as poor visibility on the Kensington Parkway on-ramp caused by trees that block drivers' views there, White said.

The struggle over the proposal caps a 20-year controversy that began soon after the Beltway opened in 1964. Residents of North Chevy Chase claim that the highway administration at the time promised that the ramp was only a temporary measure and that they would move it to Connecticut Avenue as soon as possible. Although White said she could find no written agreement, she did confirm that the state highway department at the time had made some "verbal promises" to residents along Kensington Parkway.

Chevy Chase Valley residents became entangled in the controversy more than a year ago when they learned that the state had drafted a plan to move the ramp without notifying them, according to Mary Anne Berberich, president of the community's citizens association. The association then hired Hessel, who said he "had to fight" to get a hearing on the proposed ramp change.

White explained that the project had been planned as a special project using state funds. Consequently, the state did not have to hold a public hearing as would have been required if the state used federal funds. "But we decided to hold public hearings anyway because of the public controversy. We didn't realize there would be so much controversy at first," she said.

John Mathias, who has lived on Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase Valley for 24 years, said that if the state goes ahead with its plan, "I will have a devil of a time getting out of my driveway because it will back up to a continuously moving lane. Now the traffic backs up to the Beltway {from the intersection at Jones Bridge Road}. People stop to let me in. But with a moving lane, no one will."

Berberich said "that could make those homes along Connecticut Avenue virtually unsellable." She said that people who live on side streets also would have difficulty getting out of the neighborhood.

Hessel also said that some homes along Connecticut Avenue could have their front yards cut to "15 feet from the front door to the sidewalk. That wouldn't even be enough room to park a car.

"Who would buy a house with no front yard and eight lanes of traffic in front?" Hessel asked.

Berberich said that shifting the ramp to Connecticut along with all the traffic that uses it would be unfair, especially since the state already relocated an exit ramp from Kensington Parkway to Connecticut Avenue in 1983. "Let's spread the burden around a little bit," she said.

Residents along Kensington Parkway don't agree. Marilyn Levitt, the village manager of North Chevy Chase said that Kensington Parkway "divides our community. We have a lot of children on either side of the street who can't cross the street to play with each other. But if we remove the ramp, it would revert to a residential street."

In contrast, she said, "there is nothing they can do on Connecticut Avenue" to make the road a residential street. Levitt said cars have hit children trying to cross the parkway. State highway department statistics show that 14 accidents occurred on Kensington Parkway between 1983 and the beginning of 1987.

"Connecticut Avenue will always be busy. But we can do something to improve Kensington Parkway," Levitt said. She said that being asked to share the traffic burden is unfair "because Connecticut Avenue has six lanes and Kensington Parkway only has two."

Noah, the North Chevy Chase citizens leader, said he feels "sorry for people who live on Connecticut Avenue, but if my mother lived on the other side, I'd still fight" to move the ramp.

Highway administrator Kassoff said that the situation "is about as tough as any issue" the agency has considered. "I just don't see a solution that will satisfy everyone."