Back in 1985, the organization that wanted to build Fair Oaks Hospital pledged a 7 1/2-acre parcel to the Fairfax County Park Authority as part of an agreement to permit the facility to be built in a residential neighborhood.

In effect, the land was a bargaining chip. The deed to the land, situated between the hospital site and homes, was handed over and construction of the hospital went ahead.

But the Park Authority never formally took title to the land. The deed sat in a file drawer and later was returned to the hospital as part of an elaborate land swap.

After county Supervisor Martha V. Pennino (D-Centreville) questioned the swap earlier this year, County Attorney David T. Stitt investigated the land deal and determined that the county was not cheated.

The hospital still owns the 7 1/2-acre parcel, and is about to use it again, this time in hopes of getting approval to expand.

How is the hospital able to use the same piece of land twice as a bargaining chip with the county?

An internal memo dated Nov. 9, again from County Attorney Stitt, said a Fairfax County planner found that it is permissible to use the parcel again because it never had been transferred to the Park Authority. Because the hospital owns the land, it can be used in determining the density of development under a county zoning formula.

That doesn't sit well with some of the hospital's neighbors.

"This only bears out what we have been complaining about the whole time," said Marsha Stanley, a local citizen activist who lives near the hospital. "They never filed that deed because it was a deliberate scheme to allow the hospital to use the parcel for building credits toward the new addition."

County officials have said there were no ulterior motives in dealings involving the tract of land.