Original story: Sept. 14, 8:01 p.m.
More than 230 people signed up to provide public comment Wednesday night on the proposed PW Digital Gateway for the county’s Planning Commission, setting up a hearing potentially lasting into Thursday’s workday.
The Planning Commission is holding the first public hearing on the controversial request to designate nearly 2,100 acres in western Prince William County for data centers.
When sign-up for the hearing started at 5:30 p.m., 88 people were already in line to put their name down.
When the meeting started at 7 p.m., 183 people had signed up to speak in person on the project, and 53 were slated to provide virtual public comment.
If each speaker takes their allotted three minutes, the hearing could last a minimum of 11 hours and 48 minutes, which would put the start of the Planning Commission discussion at past 7 a.m. Thursday.
“I would like to ask all attendants that we conduct ourselves with the highest level of respect for each other,” Potomac Commissioner Juan McPhail said to kick-off the meeting.
The meeting would likely shatter any record of the the longest Prince William County government meeting. The latest end to a meeting in recent years was in February 2021, when a Board of County Supervisors meeting that started at 2 p.m. on Tuesday concluded at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, primarily because of a hearing on the Dar-Al Noor Mosque expansion.
The PW Digital Gateway, which proposes 27.6 million square feet of data centers along Pageland Lane, has quickly become the most controversial and contentious local land-use proposal in decades. Opponents and proponents have launched personal attacks against each other, and it has spawned recall efforts against Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland and Board Chair Ann Wheeler and a federal lawsuit against Candland.
The original application was submitted last summer by landowners along Pageland Lane who wanted to change the land designation on about 800 acres in the Comprehensive Plan for the project. The Board of County Supervisors later expanded the request to cover 2,100 acres.
Supporters say the project will provide a huge economic boon 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 potential that the buildings could quickly become obsolete as technology continues to improve.
County planners have recommended approval of the proposal, specifically an application to change 2,139 acres in the Comprehensive Plan currently designated as agricultural/estate and environmental resource to technology/flex, parks and open space, county registered historic site and environmental resource overlay.
The proposed change would target 1,321 acres as technology/flex, 807 acres as parks and open space, 439.8 acres as environmental resource protection overlay and 9.6 acres as county historic registered site.
The staff report says if the Comprehensive Plan amendment is approved, the potential data center usage would range from 13.2 million to 27 million square feet and support 1,471 to 5,048 jobs.
The low end is more in line with rezoning requests filed by Compass Datacenters and QTS Realty Trust Inc. rather than the 27.6 million square feet touted by the proposal’s supporters. The combined Compass and QTS projects cover 1,636 acres and 18.42 million square feet.
Wednesday night's hearing is only for the Comprehensive Plan amendment, not the two rezonings. However, if the Comprehensive Plan update is approved, it will weigh heavily in favor of the rezonings.