County plans land acquisition to bolster emergency services

Prince William County is planning to take over property that will add to its stable of 800 megahertz communications towers to deal more effectively with public safety concerns — including being compatible with other jurisdictions if the county has to respond to another terrorist attack.

“It’s a critical need,” said Chief Mary Beth Michos, Prince William County Fire and Rescue. The systems improve police communications in low-lying areas and allow for joint operations with other Northern Virginia jurisdictions that are on that system.

The county found out how critical the need was when it and other localities were called to the Pentagon on Sept. 11 to help when terrorists attacked. Some jurisdictions in Maryland were unable to participate in emergency operations because their communications systems were incompatible with those in Arlington County that are on the 800 system.

Even before the attack, the county had plans to build six towers, all of which are now in operation or under construction. The Oakmont Avenue tower is the last. Others are located at the McCoart Administration Center, U.S. 15, Independent Hill, the city of Manassas and Fairfax County.

But the location for the last tower is in dispute. David Martin, a co-owner of property at 3120 Oakmont Ave. near Dumfries, has asked the board to stop the condemnation proceedings it started. He said the $20,000 the county is offering is insufficient.

Martin and his partner Mark Perry want to give a half acre of the 1.5 acre property to the county, and put a $300,000 home on the rest.

“As a tower site it’s worth an enormous amount of money, and a stream of revenue for years. Let us negotiate with you and the tower builders and let us share in the revenues,” Martin said. He suggested if the county is interested in building a tower there, other private developers might be also.

County transportation official Tom Blaser said a bona fide appraisal was made on the property and the county is willing to pay the owners more than the $7,000 for which it was appraised. But County Attorney Sharon Pandak said a private user couldn’t use the site for a radio tower, only a public entity can.

The board voted to take the property now and work with the owners later in negotiating a price.

“We always continue to negotiate even past the condemnation, until we reach a settlement, Blaser said.

Staff writer Diane Freda can be reached at (703)878-4723.