A proposal to build a 12-story, 240-suite housing complex with an additional 60-bed nursing home facility in Bethesda for wealthy senior citizens was sharply criticized by neighborhood associations and unanimously rejected by the Montgomery County Planning Board this week as too massive to be compatible with the residential community.

C.I./Mitchell & Best, a building firm, and Forum Lifecare Inc., a company specializing in housing the elderly, are seeking to develop the 16-acre parcel on the east side of Old Georgetown Road at the Capital Beltway through use of a special zoning exception that would allow them to build luxury housing for the elderly on land now zoned for town houses.

The same group has begun construction of 56 town houses, costing from $300,000 to $325,000 apiece, on land adjacent to the proposed community for senior citizens.

"Our citizens are very strongly opposed to this plan," said Ginny Miller, president of the Wyngate Citizens Association, which represents about 1,800 homes. "These developers hoped to come in the back door by exploiting the county's special exception ordinance for elderly housing. But the cost of these units will exclude almost everyone in our neighborhood," Miller said. The proposal now goes to the county's zoning appeals board. The developers have said that if it is rejected again, they will build 150 luxury town houses on the site.

According to the developers' plan, people 62 and older would pay a one-time entrance fee ranging from $145,000 to $295,000 and monthly residence fees of $895 to $1,545. As residents age and begin to require a higher level of care, they would be guaranteed personal meal service, transportation and assistance with housekeeping and grooming at an additional cost of $60 a day, or $21,900 a year, according to the developers' zoning application.

Residents would be guaranteed a semiprivate nursing home room at rates that would be equal to the monthly fee for the smallest independent apartment ($895 a month) plus about $180 a month for the additional meal service.

Over the past two weeks, the board has been deluged with letters from residents objecting to the high-rise project, most citing the size of the proposed building.

County planners acknowledged a growing need for facilities to help older residents make the transition from single-family homes to institutional living. Lynn Chaitovitz, chief planner with the county's division of elderly affairs, said a recent county survey showed there are 5,323 households headed by persons 75 and older with annual incomes of at least $30,000.

"While I believe this project, due to its unique location and luxury, will market in the area, I don't think seniors at the $25,000 income level will consider it, and I don't believe elders with {other} options will spend 60 percent of their income on housing, no matter how well packaged," Chaitovitz said in a letter to the planning board.

Board Chairman Norman Cristeller said the county's special exception was intended to encourage housing for low- and moderate-income elderly but that most of the new proposals are from developers seeking high-income tenants. He and other board members commended the concept of long-term-care facilities for the elderly, but said the Forum Lifecare proposal was too massive and too intrusive.

Planning staff members said there are no other high-rise structures proposed for the Old Georgetown Road corridor between the Bethesda central business district and the Capital Beltway. Six-story Suburban Hospital is the only other building in the vicinity taller than two stories other than federal buildings at the National Institutes of Health.

The developers of Maplewood Park, as the elderly housing project would be called, said the project fits in with the "height, bulk and density of the northern tier of the neighborhood," including the 12-story Pooks Hill Marriott, the 18-story Promenade Cooperative and the 10-story Linden Hill apartment-hotel complex.

Nearby residents disagreed, saying the building faces established homes rather than other high-rises at Wisconsin Avenue's Grosvenor Metro stop.

On Nov. 4, the project's developers floated four red balloons at heights marking the four corners of the 113-foot-tall structure. Afterwards, planners said it was obvious the proposed building would be visible and intrusive to the adjacent Maplewood, Wyngate Woods and South Grosvenor subdivisions. The planners suggested that the developers reduce the size of the project.