Prince William County supervisors have agreed to examine roughly 800 acres as sites for potential data centers in the rural area of the county.
The Board of Supervisors signed off on a request to initiate a Comprehensive Plan amendment for 801 acres across 27 parcels during its meeting early Wednesday morning.
The amendment was approved on a 5-3 party-line vote with the board’s Democrats prevailing over Republicans.
Sixteen landowners requested the amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to change their long-range land-use designation from agricultural zoning to technology zoning for a “digital gateway” along Pageland Lane for data center development.
The properties are on the east and west sides of Pageland Lane, south of Sudley Road and north of U.S. Route 29.
A Comprehensive Plan amendment would not rezone the properties. Instead, it 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.
“A vote to initiate today is not a vote to approve the requested changes,” said Planning Manager Meika Daus.
The board’s action only directs staff to return with a proposal for a Comprehensive Plan amendment. No such amendment has been formally presented or approved. County staff will examine the proposal and its impact on the surrounding area. The board voted to expand the scope of the examination from just the requested properties to the entirety of Pageland Lane between Route 29 and Sudley Road.
Before the board began discussing the issue, Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, read a legal declaration that he has a personal stake in the proposal because he lives in the Pageland Lane area.
Candland initially moved to postpone consideration of the proposal until the county finishes an examination of its Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District.
The board voted in May to spend $120,000 to hire a consultant to study areas to expand the data center district along high-transmission power lines. The overlay district is currently 10,000 acres designated in 2016 to support data center development by reducing regulatory hurdles.
The consultant will examine potential areas to expand the district but will also consider necessary changes to construction standards, the Comprehensive Plan, zoning ordinance and any other effects from data centers. The study is expected to take six to nine months.
County staff said the Comprehensive Plan amendment would complement the consultant’s work, but Candland and Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, said it was a rushed and haphazard way to expand the district.
“Initiating this project at this point is way too premature,” Candland said. “We’re looking to have two parallel processes when one of those processes could be moot.”
Comprehensive Plan amendment applications are typically accepted only at the start of the year. However, the county will consider requests outside the normal application period if they are for certain targeted industries, one of which is data centers.
Public comment during Tuesday’s meeting became a de facto public hearing on the proposal, with 71 people speaking about it. Thirty-five people were in favor of it, and 36 were opposed.
Supporters said Pageland Lane is already full of power lines and traffic and is no longer rural. They said data centers would provide a boost to county tax revenue without a stress on services.
Speaker Melanie Williams said her children would have been the fifth generation of farmers on their property, but it can no longer be farmed.
“We’ve been pegged as greedy landowners trying to flip this to become rich and trying to destroy the ‘Rural Crescent,’” she said. “It’s very sad to me to see what has happened over the past several years and we are no longer able to farm on our property. … This is not an easy decision, this is a very sad decision that we are having to make”
Many residents of the Pageland area opposed major development proposals in the past 20 to 30 years, including Disney’s plan for a theme park near Haymarket in the mid-1990s and the Bi-County Parkway that would connect Prince William and Loudoun counties. But now, the landowners said they’re tired of fighting.
“Pageland residents see the writing on the wall, and we’ve come together and come to you to make lemonade out of these high-transmission lemons,” said Mary Ghadban.
Opponents of the proposal said it was too vague to properly understand its impact because it did not come with an accompanying rezoning request. They said it was not in an appropriate area and were concerned about its impact on the nearby Manassas Battlefield.
“It would be the largest land-use shift we’ve seen in the county in 20 years, and we have little information about how it would affect the rest of the county,” said Kim Hosen.
Also during the meeting, the board approved a request from Amazon Data Services for a Comprehensive Plan amendment for 77.9 acres to change the designation from general commercial to flexible use employment center for three parcels off Ashton Avenue near Manassas Mall. Amazon has submitted rezoning and special-use permit applications for a planned data center and electrical substation on the land.
Amazon’s proposal was passed on a 6-2 vote, with Candland and Supervisor Yesli Vega, R-Coles, dissenting.