In an attempt to end its five-year search for a fire and rescue training center location, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to exercise its power of eminent domain if a willing seller cannot be found.
The state and federal constitutions provide that government has ultimate authority over all the land within its jurisdiction and can appropriate land for public use upon payment of the fair market value of the property and any damages to remaining property.
The supervisors expect that last week's decision may make at least a dozen sites available that previously met two board criteria, suitability of the land and community acceptance, but did not have owners willing to sell them, the first of three requirements that the county has followed in its search for a place to locate a training center.
Loudoun has tried since the late 1970s to establish a center for programs of fire and rescue training for its volunteer fire department and rescue squad members. The state has identified Loudoun as one of several areas in need of such a center and is expected to provide some of the center's funding, according to Loudoun fire marshal O.R. Dube. The total cost for the center is estimated at $950,000, Dube said.
Last week, Leesburg Supervisor Frank Raflo, chairman of the board's site selection committee, explained to fellow board members that "if we go back and review the sites or turn up new ones and if we make an offer to purchase, and the owner is unwilling to sell, then the county moves to acquire the property, willing or not . . . we'll go ahead and take it."
Raflo and Blue Ridge Supervisor James F. Brownell, who is also on the site selection committee, met late last month and agreed to recommend to the full board that it waive the willing-seller requirement.
The major reason for this step, Raflo said, was a consultant's recent study of the county's fire and rescue system that found, among other things, that the county volunteer system could continue if there were sufficient incentives for people to volunteer as members.
"The finding of a site is probably the largest single incentive to the volunteers," Raflo said.
Among the sites considered by the committee is a property near Lucketts, a village north of Leesburg. Plans for the training center, however, have been strongly protested by some residents in the area who say that they do not want practice fires and other proposed activities to take place near their homes. The site still is under consideration.
In other business, the supervisors received a final report from the Citizens Committee on Economic Development. The 14-member committee, appointed by the board in May, was asked to study the county's attempts to attract business and industry and suggest ways the effort might be improved.
The committee's 24-page report contains 25 recommendations that the supervisors are expected to consider at Monday's meeting.
Among the committee's conclusions are:
*"Conflicting policy direction by the Board of Supervisors had produced the perception that the board and the county staff have a negative attitude toward new business development."
*"The board has not adequately used the resources of the Department of Economic Development in making decisions regarding specific applications, because its present policy limits the role of the department to that of a marketing office."