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Prince William County officials got an earful Thursday night from all sides of the request to designate more than 2,100 acres along Pageland Lane for data centers.
The county held a listening session on the PW Digital Gateway – a proposal to potentially pave the way for more than 27.6 million square feet of data centers along Pageland Lane, or nearly as much data center space as is currently in use or under construction in neighboring Loudoun County, the world’s largest concentration of such facilities.
After nearly three hours, 73 people spoke, with 41 opposed to the proposal and 32 in favor of it.
Thursday’s session was only for in-person comments after a flood of registrants would have stretched the meeting well into the night. The county will hold a separate listening session at 7 p.m. Feb. 3 for the more than 100 people who signed up to speak remotely.
Prior to the listening session, the county held an open house to provide information on a slew of issues related to the project, including electricity, water management, potential cemeteries on the site and its relation to the Manassas National Battlefield. The open house included a table for the applicants to answer questions about the proposal.
The gateway proposal is a request for the county to change the land designation of several properties along Pageland Lane in the Comprehensive Plan from agricultural zoning to technology zoning.
A Comprehensive Plan amendment only changes what the county says it hopes for future use of the land. It does not bind the county, the board or the landowners to any guaranteed future uses. The properties would still require zoning approval to allow data centers.
Those on both sides of the plan parroted many of the same points they’ve brought to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors over the past few months.
Supporters of the gateway say it will provide a huge economic boom to the county in an area that’s no longer rural. Opponents say such large developments would decimate the character of the county’s rural area – they have raised concerns about the availability of power, effects on water quality and the Manassas National Battlefield, plus the potential that the buildings could quickly become obsolete as technology continues to improve.
The listening session was civil, for the most part, although sharp words were exchanged on each side early in the night.
Supporters were noted by the white shirts they donned over their clothes, which some opponents mocked or used as a way to differentiate the two sides.
Some supporters referred to the opponents as primarily paid lobbyists, while others maligned the age-restricted Heritage Hunt neighborhood that has been up in arms over the proposal.
“I am not a paid lobbyist. I live in this county. I want to live in this county a long time,” said Vida Carroll, who doesn’t live in Heritage Hunt. “I’m going to be living with these for a long time. They’ll probably be obsolete before I’m even eligible to live in Heritage Hunt.”
Tim Kissler, who lives in the area and is a local developer as principal with Castle Rock Partners LLC, said those who live in Heritage Hunt likely retired to the area and aren’t long-time residents.
“If I was from New Jersey and just moved to Heritage Hunt, I’d probably be pissed too,” he said.
Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson attended the session and stood when a speaker asked those opposing the project to stand, clapping for those standing.
When supporter Ken Knarr said the tax revenue from the project is needed because “The county has serious financial problems,” Lawson piped in from the crowd that “No we don’t” have such issues.
J.P. Raflo, who is among those asking for the land-use change, said that he never envisioned selling his land for data centers, but the writing is on the wall.
“We didn’t ask for this,” he said. “But if these are the cards that are being dealt, we’re going to play them.”
Tom Sheehan questioned the need to continue approving data centers in the county.
“Do we really need more data sites right now?” he said. “And even if we do, is Pageland the very best and only site in the entire county where they could be put?”
County staff have not crafted any recommendations related to the proposal and no public hearings have been scheduled.
“We’re really at the beginning of the process,” said Interim Planning Director Rebecca Horner. “Tonight was really the first step in this process.”
For more information on the PW Digital Gateway, visit pwcva.gov/department/planning-office/pw-digital-gateway.