The Manassas City Council agreed Monday to meet with Virginia Power to see whether the company will consider burying rather than installing a 103-foot-tall transmission line near the city's historic district.

The council's action followed testimony by several residents and representatives of the Old Town Manassas business community who expressed concern over the proposed line's visual impact on historic Manassas.

More than 80 people crowded into City Hall to protest the 230-kilovolt line, which has been planned for nearly 1 1/2 years and is under review by state officials.

"It's 10 minutes to midnight," Manassas resident Peter M. Kirby said of the short time left to influence the design.

He asked the council to join local state legislators to petition the State Corporation Commission, which regulates businesses operating in Virginia, to reopen public hearings on the case, which were closed last winter.

If the SCC, which has jurisdiction over lines 200-kilovolts and above, could see a "unanimous political gesture . . . maybe they would go ahead and have another public hearing" to consider burying the proposed line, Kirby said.

Council members directed city officials to meet with Virginia Power officials to discuss options for burying the line, including passing the additional estimated cost of $5.4 million to their customers. Installing overhead lines would cost $800,000, a Virginia Power official said.

State Corporation Commission spokesman Kevin Schrad said he did not believe the SCC had ever reopened a case to public hearing.

Manassas Mayor John Weber and Director of Public Works Clyde Wimmer are expected to contact Virginia Power officials this week. Weber, however, suggested it may be more suitable for a third party, such as a community organization, to petition the SCC because the council already has entered into an agreement with Virginia Power.

"In all honesty, if we had to look back on this . . . none of us visualized the size of that thing," said council member Maury Gerson.

In December 1988, the council dropped its plans to install a $1.5 million, 115-kilovolt city-owned line along the railroad tracks and agreed to let Virginia Power extend a 230-kilovolt along the same route.

In exchange, Virginia Power agreed to remove existing poles and lines on Prince William Street, next to the railroad tracks, and pay for upgrading Manassas facilities to accommodate the larger line. Virginia Power's line will run from a facility near Clifton to Manassas, providing service for Manassas and Prince William and Fairfax counties.

Last winter, the SCC held public hearings on the proposal, which drew no major opposition from Manassas residents, many of whom said they were unaware of the proposal and hearings. The judge who presided over the hearings is preparing a recommendation to the SCC.

Virginia Power spokesman James Norvelle said the SCC usually orders power lines underground for safety or engineering reasons. The SCC also considers Virginia Power's obligation to keep rates down.

"If we were to propose absorbing the cost ourselves for {putting a line underground} when the only issue may be aesthetic, then that is not a prudent use of our funds," Norvelle said. He said Virginia Power would not voluntarily pay for putting the line underground.

Asked whether Manassas would assume the cost, Weber said: "We would have other priorities for the $5 million."