Manassas Park and Prince William County are discussing annexation by the city of two city-owned tracts located inside Prince William County lines.
The two tracts, one approximately 404 acres and the other 270 acres, are undeveloped and are just east of the city. All but 106 acres are contiguous to the city.
Annexing the land, which has been the desire of City Manager Jerry Davis for "at least a year," would mean that Manassas Park, which at 1.8 square miles and 1,300 acres is Virginia's smallest city, would lose that distinction. It would, however, permit the kind of development that Manassas Park needs to fill its schools, Davis said. For example, the city's high school, which has 700 students, needs 1,500 students to make it "cost-effective," he said.
All attempts to discuss annexation formally have been met with silence, according to Davis. Both jurisdictions have appointed three-member committees to negotiate, but the committees have not met.
Approximately 1 million gallons of sewer capacity in the upper Occoquan Sewer Authority treatment plant belonging to Manassas Park could be traded as part of an agreement that would allow the city to annex the land. According to both city and county officials, this trade has been discussed several times recently and a formal offer could become a reality.
The idea of trading sewer capacity for the annexation was first mentioned to Davis by County Executive Robert Noe during an unrelated meeting three weeks ago, Davis said.
"He told me, 'Usually when someone wants something, they have something to give in return. What do you have to offer?' That's when he suggested that a trade of the sewer capacity might become a package deal," Davis said.
Noe did not deny the offer but said that it was first brought up by Davis. He added that if such a package were offered, the county would consider it. "That's the last I've heard from them, though," Noe said.
The two jurisdictions blame each other for the delay in getting negotiations started, with Prince William officials stating that, because the city wants the annexation, the written request for a meeting should come from Manassas Park officials.
Said county attorney John Foote: "Municipalities don't do this kind of thing by phone. And nobody has written that first letter."
The delay has caused some City Council members to become impatient. A resolution was approved recently requesting state Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Prince William) and Del. Harry Parrish (R-Manassas) to introduce legislation in the General Assembly allowing the city to initiate annexation without going through the negotiation process required by a state law enacted in 1975. Manassas Park owned the land it wants annexed before that law was passed and before becoming a city in 1976, Colgan said.
Under the old law, according to Foote, a jurisdiction could petition a three-judge panel if it wanted to annex land. Cities seeking to annex land from counties often won in court, Foote said.
"The annexation seems to be a reasonable request," Colgan said. "Since the land belongs to the city, the county isn't deriving any tax revenue from it."
Although Colgan favors annexation, he is slower to say that introducing legislation to allow the city to initiate annexation is a good idea.
"If it's defeated, that may close the door on Manassas Park forever," he said. "I would like to make sure it has a good chance of passing."
The 1975 law says that jurisdictions wanting immunity from annexation may seek a court order prohibiting other jurisdictions from initiating annexation proceedings. According to Foote, Prince William County was one of a few jurisdictions that sought the court order.
Colgan says he will draft the proposed law, but he wants to discuss it with the City Council before taking it to Richmond this month. He confirmed the offer to trade sewer capacity for land.
"It came up at a recent meeting of the Virginia Association of Counties," Colgan said. According to him, board chairman Kathleen Seefeldt also mentioned to him that the county was "hopeful" of obtaining sewer capacity. Seefeldt declined to comment.
Board Vice Chairman Joseph Reading of Brentsville, who is one of the members of the county negotiating team, said that the land, which is in his district, will "never be traded for anything."
"Everyone in my district is violently opposed to it," Reading said. "I won't give Prince William County water for sewer capacity or anything else."
Reading said that in 1981 a corporation presented a proposal to Manassas Park for a 300-acre landfill on the 404-acre parcel. The Prince William Board of Supervisors denied a special use permit and a request to rezone the land from agricultural to heavy industrial.
"They think we have a short memory about that request," Reading said. "I will step down from the negotiating team if they have a personal problem with me. I will listen to talk about a trade, but no one in Brentsville wants a landfill there."
Reading said he also would oppose development of the land, because of the increased traffic problems it would bring to Blooms Road residents.
Davis has said that he would like to have 1,200 housing units built on the 404-acre parcel to help fill the city's schools and widen its tax base. Currently, Manassas Park, which has little industry, has relatively high tax rates, $1.80 per $100 on real estate and $3.50 on personal property.
The proposed state legislation, as suggested by the City Council resolution approved last month, would affect only Manassas Park, because it stipulates that only cities of more than 5,000 in population and less than 10,000 would be allowed to initiate annexation. Manassas Park has 6,000 about residents.
Approximately 270 acres of the land originally were purchased to be developed into a park, said City Council member Dorothy Bello, who cosponsored the legislation resolution.
"That parcel would still be used for a park," Bello said.
Declared Davis: "If we exhaust all avenues for annexation and we're still stuck with the property, my guess is that we'd sell it to anyone but them Prince William County . We might be the first city to go into the hog farm business."