Breaking a tradition of confrontation between cities and counties whenever the question of annexation comes up, Fredericksburg will acquire 4.6 square miles of neighboring Sportsylvania County, 2,400 of its residents and a bustling commercial center with five motels just off I-95 later this year.

It is the first time a Virginia city and county have successfully negotiated a land settlement without a court fight. Virginia is the only state in the nation where cities are independent of counties that surround them.

A special annexation court appointed by the General Assembly approved the Fredericksburg agreement last week. The court said there is "a significant need for the city to expand its tax resources. The evidence shows that the city is not attracting young families, and this may be occasioned in large part by the scarcity of vacant land for residential development within the existing city."

The special court also praised local officials for their agreement and efforts to avoid "the costly and protracted annexation litigation of the past with its ensuing bitterness and suspicion."

The annexation, scheduled to take place Dec. 1, was agreed to by Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania officials in 1981 and was approved by the state Commission on Local Government last summer.

Under the agreement, the city will pay the county $4.1 million for loss of taxes and agree to protect the county from annexation for the next 25 years.

A local citizens group unsuccessfully fought the agreement, objecting to the longer-then-normal moratorium on annexation. Under existing state law, there is a 10-year moratorium following an annexation.