Ten years of planning by Fairfax County officials to purchase 35 wooded acres in the Mount Vernon area for a park ended last week when a developer paid $6.05 million for the property at a public auction.

William Beckner, executive assistant for parks for the Fairfax County Park Authority, said county officials "were very disappointed we didn't get the land." The county assessed the value of the property at $985,000, he said.

The property, bounded by Little Hunting Creek, Williamsburg Manor Park and the Stratford Landing subdivision, was unknown to many Mount Vernon residents until a month ago. At that time the General Services Administration announced it would auction off the land owned by the U.S. Coast Guard and used for a radio transmitting station from 1947 to 1976.

"It's the largest piece of land auctioned by GSA in the entire Washington metro area in at least the last five years," said Howard DeVane, a GSA realty specialist who was the auctioneer. "It's probably the largest tract of land {GSA} has ever sold in Northern Virginia." It ranks in the top 10 percent of the highest prices ever paid nationwide for GSA property, DeVane said.

The land, which has one small concrete building on it, was purchased by the Ocean Atlantic Building Corp. Michael Ferraguto Jr., president and chief executive officer of the firm, said he plans to build on the tract 70 brick, single-family houses that will sell for $325,000 to $450,000 each. Construction on the 35-acre site will begin by June, he said.

"I never knew the land was there and I'm a developer in that area," Ferraguto said. "I just found out about the auction last month."

The auction, held Dec. 8 in Crystal City, took 15 minutes, with bids starting at $600,000.

In 1976 the Coast Guard closed the transmitter station and the land became surplus government property. "The county first bid on that land in 1977, but it was pulled off of surplus for reconsideration to be used by the Coast Guard," Beckner said. The Coast Guard never used the property after 1976, according to Cmdr. Kenneth Shepard, executive officer of the Alexandria Coast Guard station on Telegraph Road.

"Up until 1981, it was the federal government practice to surplus the land and make it available to local agencies for various purposes. One of the most common was for park land," Beckner said.

"In 1981, President Reagan signed an executive order that said the U.S. government would make every effort to dispense of surplus property through selling it to the top bidder to get a fair return for the government," he added.

Fairfax County "paid $1 for Huntley Meadows {park} in 1974 to purchase the land from the Department of the Navy through the Department of the Interior," Beckner said. "That's what we wanted to do with this {Mount Vernon} land." Huntley Meadows Park and Wildlife Preserve covers 1,262 acres, south of Alexandria off Rte. 1.

Last February, the Fairfax Board of Supervisors passed a resolution ordering county staff to work with the U.S. Department of the Interior to purchase the land for the county. At that time the National Park Service requested that GSA give it the land so the service could turn it eventually over to the county, but the request was denied mainly because of the 1981 executive order, according to Beckner.

Beckner said the Mount Vernon area has a "serious need" for park land on which facilities can be built. Much of the county-owned park land in Mount Vernon is wetlands or stream valleys.

The main county-owned parks in Mount Vernon are Williamsburg Manor Park, 25 acres; Collingwood Park, 12 acres; Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 23 1/2 acres; Grist Mill Park, 71 acres; Mount Vernon Community Park, 17 acres, and Little Hunting Creek Park, 31 acres.

"Unless the developer {Ocean Atlantic Building Corp.} adds park facilities in this piece of property, then they're just adding to the deficiency of park facilities in that area," Beckner said.

Ferraguto said he has no plans to build any park facilities or set aside any park land at the site. However, he said seven of the 35 acres are on a flood plain, so no houses can be built on that section.

His company's other projects include a 50,000-square-foot office building at I-395 and Duke Street in Alexandria and 74 town houses at Fort Hunt Road and Rte. 1.

The company plans to build 23 single-family houses on Fort Hunt Road and Admiral Drive in Mount Vernon to sell for about $500,000 each.