Residents of Pine Springs, a small Fairfax County community near Falls Church, say that an eight-foot-high fence separating the residents and a local company has been an eyesore and an inconvenience for nearly 20 months. But after a recent court ruling, the end of their battle may be near.

The residents, members of the Pine Springs Civic Association, and Fairfax County have been fighting with E-Systems-Melpar Co., a major defense contractor, and GBA Associates, E-Systems' landlord, which erected a fence without a proper permit from the county and without informing the residents. The county sued GBA in May in an effort to get the fence removed.

The fence, which is chain link with barbed wire on top, is in a buffer area between the residents living just inside the Capital Beltway along Rte. 50 and the company's electronics research and development facility on 44 acres of land at 7700 Arlington Blvd.

Last month, Fairfax Circuit Judge Thomas J. Middleton ordered Albert Forte, GBA's president, to remove the fence or apply for a special county permit by Dec. 31.

Middleton also ruled that Forte had violated a 1982 zoning agreement requiring the company to maintain a 90-foot buffer, and had failed to honor a condition that said, "Existing natural landscaped buffer to be preserved."

GBA erected the fence in March 1986 without filing an application for a permit from the county's zoning office and refused to move it after county zoning officials ordered the company to remove or relocate it outside the buffer area.

Residents of the 131-home subdivision, which was completed in 1952, say the fence is ugly and blocks a pathway they once used to walk to an elementary school and a playground. Many of them say they are frustrated that the issue has not been resolved yet.

Forte said he plans to apply for the permit by the Dec. 31 deadline and wants "to work out something with residents where everybody is happy." The fence, he noted, provides security for the defense contractor.

If he files the application for the permit, he must first attend a county zoning commission hearing, which may not be scheduled until early spring. Then Forte's request would be heard by the county's board of supervisors. If he doesn't apply for the permit, he must remove the fence within 30 days.

"The ball is in his {Forte's} court," said Richard Lyon, president of the Pine Springs Civic Association. "If he submits an application, we're going to comment on it. We want the buffer restored as it was before."