The Board of County Supervisors delayed the purchase yesterday of a large new park in Gainesville, which may be threatened by future road projects and has flared as a political issue in the race to unseat Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R).
The 120-acre parcel envisioned for soccer and baseball fields on Sudley Road is half-owned by one of Wilbourn's largest campaign contributors, prompting the supervisor's two GOP challengers to raise questions about Wilbourn's role in helping to locate a park site.
Park and county officials also said they wanted more time to study the possible effect of a planned extension of Route 234 on the property before completing the $670,000 sale. And several neighbors to the proposed park urged the board to delay action on the purchase so they and other residents would have more time to gauge its effect on the area.
"It's so quick, and we don't have any answers," said Fred Greco, of Catharpin.
Supervisors voted unanimously yesterday to delay a decision until their first meeting in July.
In a heated series of statements before the vote, the property's owners and several other Gainesville residents said the proposed park was vital for the district's children and should not fall victim to politics.
"This issue is starting to get political," said David Milne, a leader of youth soccer programs from Haymarket. "That serves nobody's purpose."
In addition, Wilbourn said that some local companies were reconsidering offers to help develop the park because of a report detailing the proposed sale in Saturday's Washington Post. Wilbourn called the story "irresponsible" and said it failed to report facts that would have "softened this whole thing."
The first-term supervisor also lashed out at critics within Gainesville.
"It's time they set aside pettiness and political sparring and put the community first for once," Wilbourn said.
Gainesville -- home to the Manassas National Battlefield Park -- has long been a hotbed of citizen opposition to projects such as the failed Disney's America theme park. And Wilbourn has been accused by some preservation-minded residents of being too cozy with development interests.
One of his GOP challengers, Martha T. Hendley, said it was fair to question Wilbourn's role in choosing a park site and criticized him for saying that private companies might not help develop the land because of the controversy.
"Is this developers coming to the rescue at the last minute to salvage his incumbency, that they're only going to provide these services if he's reelected?" Hendley asked. "Are they doing this for Ed Wilbourn, or are they doing this for the people of Gainesville? . . . It's difficult to believe that Ed Wilbourn didn't have influence on the choice of land for this park. It stretches the limits of credibility."
Wilbourn's second challenger in Tuesday's GOP primary, Kevin P. Childers, could not be reached for comment late yesterday.
The land at issue is half-owned by Bobby J. and Lois E. Surface, who together and through their company, Superior Paving Corp. of Manassas, have given more than $3,000 to Wilbourn since he first sought office in 1995. Only one other couple has given more to Wilbourn during that time, campaign finance records show.
The site was considered by a search committee that initially included Wilbourn, his park board appointee and two Park Authority staff members. Participants said that Wilbourn and the rest of the group narrowed a list of about 40 potential properties to six finalists and that Wilbourn had no role in the final choice of the Sudley Road location as the best site.
Wilbourn said he paid no attention to land ownership during the earlier discussions, and three other participants said he did not indicate that he favored any particular site.
Bobby Surface told supervisors yesterday that Wilbourn had "no contact with me about the property" and that he didn't know about the county's interest in the land until he was contacted by a real estate broker.
The proposed park was part of an $8 million bond referendum approved last year by county voters that included $750,000 for acquisition of parkland in Gainesville. Park Authority officials said they have no money budgeted to actually develop the land as a park once it's purchased.
Wilbourn said last week that he pushed for rapid purchase of the land so that local engineering, surveying and development companies could donate labor and materials during the current construction season. Yesterday, Wilbourn said reports about the land purchase threatened those offers because of concerns over "negative publicity."