Kensington voters have defeated a measure that would have devoted $300,000 in state and local funds to buying two lots in the heart of the town's historic district, a move that has left the lots open to development.

Supporters of the measure said the 240-to-188 vote raises questions about the town's commitment to historic preservation, and on what the town's policy is regarding development on empty lots in established neighborhoods.

But the chief opponent of the measure said the vote was nothing more than a refusal to spend a relatively large sum of money on two small parcels of land in just one part of town.

Approval of the Sept. 11 referendum would have allowed the town to apply for $225,000 in state funds to buy two lots near the Noyes Childrens Library. The lots would then have been used as parks. The remaining $75,000 would have had to have been raised locally.

Kensington developers William Avery and Paul Flaherty own the two lots, which are on both sides of a large, gray Victorian house, and proposed building houses on the lots at 10232 Carroll Pl. and 10234 Montgomery Ave. Avery and Flaherty have twice had designs for houses on those lots turned down by the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission.

The developers have a hearing before the Montgomery County Board of Appeals next week on the two proposed houses. One house would be a Victorian-style carriage house, and the other would be of Georgian design.

Tricia McPherson, who lives near the two lots and who worked for passage of the referendum, said, "It {the vote} was also a referendum on whether the town was willing to be a historic district."

Kensington, developed at the turn of the century as a Victorian garden suburb and an escape from the congestion of city life, enjoys historic district status because of its large inventory of well-preserved Victorian homes.

But Jayne H. Plank, former mayor of Kensington and the organizer of the effort to defeat the referendum, said the referendum was no more than a "fiscally sound" move to conserve public money.

Kensington's town council had approved a plan to apply for $225,000 from the state under Maryland's open space program. This program allocates funds derived from real estate transfer taxes to local governments to buy parkland.

But Plank and other opponents of the expenditure gathered signatures of more than 20 percent of the town's registered voters and forced the issue to a referendum.

The $225,000 in state money is Kensington's total allocation of money to buy parkland, and the sum has been set aside for Kensington over the years. Plank said.

"Should we spend 30 years' accumulation in one place?" Plank said.

She also disputed the notion that opponents of the referendum were opponents of historic preservation. She said that it was under her administration that the historic district was implemented.

Aside from historic preservation issues, the referendum was a focal point of debate in Kensington over in-fill development, the question of how to regulate building on empty lots in established neighborhoods.

There are 60 such lots in Kensington, and 30 within a short distance of the two lots in question, that could be built upon.

Plank said the referendum, which would have taken only two of these lots off the market, was a "Band-Aid approach" to the question of in-fill development.

She said more comprehensive measures might include tougher zoning in the historic district or an easement program to protect open spaces and historic properties.

T.J. O'Malley, president of the Kensington Historical Society, said residents met this past week with representatives of the Maryland Historic Trust to discuss an easement program. Under such a program, landowners would give development rights for the properties to the trust in exchange for tax abatements.