PALOS VERDES ESTATES, CALIF. -- Gordon and Mary Aughinbaughs' new home in this coastal city is nearly finished and it is shaping up to be a beauty.

Styled after an 18th-century French country manor, the 6,000-square-foot, three-story home sits on an acre lot with a large courtyard. There are ocean views from every floor, and the attic includes a split-level chapel for Mary, a devout Catholic.

"There is nothing else like it," said Gordon Aughinbaugh, 73, pointing out that, given the way the house is built, including 20-inch exterior walls, "it will be standing 900 years from now."

But despite the attention to quality, or maybe because of it, the house may soon not be standing.

The city's homeowner association has received a court order allowing it to tear down the Aughinbaughs' dream home because of its lengthy gestation period -- the couple has been building the house for 14 years.

In what may be the ultimate example of a dispute between a resident and a homeowners group escalating into warfare, the Palos Verdes Homes Association said it is ready to call in the bulldozers because the Aughinbaughs have violated a strict association guideline about how long a home project may take.

It is the first time since the association was formed more than 50 years ago that the group has sought permission to demolish a house, an attorney for the group said.

The couple, after living in another house in the city for 25 years, said they were not to blame for the delay. While they said they are picky about every detail of their home, they said the project's lengthy duration is because of what they said were inept contractors, and the association itself, with what the couple view as silly demands and red tape.

"It makes us sound like the bad guys," said Sidney Croft, attorney for the city's homeowners association, but "all we are asking is that the Aughinbaughs comply with the same rules as the rest of our members."

The association gained the legal authority to tear down the house after it sued the Aughinbaughs in 1984, alleging the couple had violated an association bylaw requiring anyone building a home in the city to "proceed diligently."

The bylaws list no specific time period, but the association believes 14 years does not classify as diligent.

The construction "has been an irritant to the community over a number of years," City Manager James Hendrickson said. "The work has not progressed in a satisfactory fashion."

The city has no formal role in the dispute.

The couple, who estimated they have spent $1.5 million on the house since breaking ground in 1976, contended they have encountered many obstacles that have delayed construction of their ambitious project.

And they are contemptuous of the association. Its officers "are like little dictators," said Mary Aughinbaugh, 57. "I don't think anybody should have the right to demolish a house." There is no dispute that the Palos Verdes Homes Association wields a lot of power in the small, affluent community about 25 miles south of Los Angeles.

Like other U.S. homeowner associations -- a recent estimate placed the number of groups at 130,000 -- it is the community's taste police, acting as a quasi-governmental body with veto power over all exterior architecture and landscaping.

The association reigns throughout Palos Verdes Estates and in parts of neighboring Rancho Palos Verdes. The group even has the power to select the color a home can be painted. In the Aughinbaughs' case, the group has determined beige -- and only beige -- will be allowed.

Over the years, the association has taken homeowners to court, typically for putting additions on their homes without first getting permission, Croft said. As a result, many additions have been torn down.

But the association's legal case against the Aughinbaughs is a first. The case was decided four years ago when a Los Angeles County Superior Court gave the couple until Dec. 1, 1988, to finish the home or face demolition. The judgment was stayed during an appeal and an appellate court affirmed the decision in November.

Under the court order the city would be permitted to raze the house, and restore the property to its original undeveloped state. The Aughinbaughs would not be entitled to any compensation.

Croft said he soon will go back to court to seek a "writ of possession" one of the final legal steps before the walls would come tumbling down.

The Aughinbaughs said the house is 95 percent completed. The roof and exterior walls are up and windows and floors are in. The inside walls are complete, though much finish work remains. The plumbing and wiring is done, but fixtures are not installed.

Before they can move into the house, the couple needs to obtain a certificate of occupancy from the city. But more work is needed before such a certificate would be issued.

Short of getting such a permit, the Aughinbaughs could satisfy the association if they would simply hire a general contractor who could quickly complete the house, said Harry Brandel Jr., head of the home association's board of directors.

"We would rather not {raze the house}," Brandel said. "But we are going to if they don't come through. Absolutely. We have to. We don't have any choice."

"We are not bluffing," Croft said. "We take these restrictions very seriously ... . This is not like somebody painting their house the wrong color."