The Board of County Supervisors is set to decide Tuesday one of the most controversial land acquisition issues of this election year: whether to purchase a tract of land for a park in the Gainesville district.
The $626,617 purchase was put on hold over the past six weeks, effectively snuffing out a topic that had become fiercely politicized during preparations for the June 8 primary election. If the board approves the purchase, the new park will help satisfy the growing demand for recreational fields in western Prince William--a demand that residents voiced when they approved a 1998 bond referendum to finance the acquisition of a park site.
Both the Park Authority and the Planning Commission have endorsed the purchase.
The board's vote will also effectively close a chapter in the stormy tale of growth in Prince William that played itself out during the heated three-way Republican primary race last month.
The property off Sudley Road has been criticized by community activists and neighbors as having a host of potential problems, ranging from runoff from a septic facility that is scheduled to be built nearby to questions about power lines on the property. County and Park Authority officials also have asked for extra time to examine how the placement of the Route 234 Bypass would be affected by the site.
But the greatest controversy over the park has surrounded the relationship between Gainesville Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R) and one of the couples who own the land, who were also one of Wilbourn's largest campaign contributors. The revelation caused Wilbourn's two GOP rivals to question his role in the decision-making process last spring. Wilbourn helped cut a list of 40 potential park sites down to six but left the final decision to the Park Authority, according to county officials.
The debate continued at the Park Authority meeting Wednesday, where members unanimously approved the purchase before a small crowd. Several people in attendance opposed the proposal on the grounds that physical and logistical realities--as well as health concerns--limit the potential of the site.
But the authority stressed the need for compromise amid a growing need for recreational space.
"I started out with significant reservations about the project," said Park Authority member Pete Ebert (At-Large). "I've come to the conclusion that in all reality . . . there isn't a piece of property that we can buy in that immediate area for the amount of money that we are under contract for."
A feasibility study of the land still must be completed, and the Park Authority has the option of pulling out of the land deal any time before Aug. 31, according to a proposal pushed through by Linda Meyer, Wilbourn's appointee on the Park Authority. Committee members said that if any major problems present themselves, the authority will not hesitate to stop the deal.
The decision also took into account a deal-sweetener: The sellers agreed to donate about 20 acres of the tract as right-of-way land for the 234 Bypass and reduced the sale price from $670,000.