Fred Greco, an opponent of the Gainesville park approved by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors last month, has filed a lawsuit seeking to reverse the county's decision to buy the site for ballfields.
Greco and other citizen activists have fought the purchase of the 101-acre tract since it was first proposed in the spring, saying the project posed safety risks and transportation problems, and claiming that the site would not give the county its money's worth. But the county dismissed those claims after study, and the Prince William County Park Authority, the Park Authority Board and the Board of Supervisors approved the $626,617 purchase in a series of votes during May and July.
In a lawsuit filed last Wednesday and served to the county Monday, Greco asked the Prince William Circuit Court to reverse the decision.
"It's arrogance and power . . . This piece of property doesn't fit to be a park, but they want it there because Mr. Wilbourn wants it there," Greco said, referring to Supervisor Edgar S. Wilbourn III (R-Gainesville), in whose district the park would be placed.
County Attorney Sharon Pandak said that the claim was vague and without teeth, and that she will attempt to have the suit dismissed before it ever gets to court.
"My direction has been for everybody to proceed" with preparations for settling the land purchase, Pandak said. "I don't think the suit has any merit."
Among the suit's complaints is that the park site essentially forces the planned 234 bypass eastward--next to Greco's property. The bypass has never had a definite location.
The property off Sudley Road has proved to be an election-year troublemaker. Voters, in a 1998 referendum, approved a bond issue to pay for a park, and the Park Authority narrowed a list of 40 possible sites down to one. But opponents objected to the choice, saying that a nearby sewage facility and overhead power lines posed health threats and logistical difficulties to converting it into ballfields.
Activists and two of Wilbourn's Republican challengers also questioned the supervisor's ethics when it was discovered that two of the Gainesville site's four owners were major contributors to Wilbourn's campaign. Wilbourn helped during initial efforts to choose a site, but was not involved in a final decision.
The recent lawsuit suggests that the opposition--however much it may have dwindled--has not been stilled. Greco, an attorney who has previously filed two lawsuits against proposed developments, alleges that the three county bodies were "unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious" in approving the park location. He asks the court to render the county's votes "void" or at least to issue a permanent injunction preventing the county from turning the site into a park.
Greco's suit primarily accuses Prince William of turning a deaf ear to the threat of nitrates from a sewage facility planned for an adjacent grocery store. He says because the sewage system will be located on a high point of land, the waste may run down into the park.
But John Meehan, environmental health manager of the Prince William Health District, said his department's studies have uncovered no such risks. The type of sewage system proposed has been in use for at least a decade, mainly in agricultural areas, Meehan said. A sizable drain field surrounding the system will absorb the waste, he said.
"The department accepted that there was going to be adequate dilution for the treated sewage," Meehan said of the Virginia Department of Health's findings. "We think it's at least equal to what we do for a conventional home system."
The suit also claims that too little--50 percent--of the land is usable for fields. County planners have said that the site may allow as much as 60 percent for ballfields. And they point out that about 50 percent of James S. Long Park north of Haymarket is usable.
Citing the county's dearth of ballfields, Wilbourn rebutted claims that anything other than concerns for residents motivated him in pushing for a park.
"The west end is where we need athletic fields," he said. "It's centrally located. It has nothing to do with power. It has to do with need."
At a Park Authority Board meeting tonight, the body will hold a public hearing on a concept for the parcel that lists plans for three soccer fields, two football fields and one softball field. The body may vote on whether to confirm the land purchase, which it approved contingent upon the results of feasibility studies in July.
Pandak said she did not think the suit would pose any delays, and that she hoped the county could achieve a final settlement with the site's owners by late September.